In her memoirs, Tanning says that this painting was titled by her future husband, Max Ernst, on his first visit to her studio, to look for art to include in the Exhibition by 31 Women
show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery. It is a Surrealist self-portrait, as Tanning stands in a vertigo-inducing room of tilted floors and infinite doors, clad in a jacket with a train of seaweed twisted into human figure shapes, with a winged, lemur-like creature as her familiar. Doors are a recurring theme in Tanning’s work, which she attributed to a nightmare she once had of an infinite succession of doors.
Date of work
Oil on canvas 102.2 × 64.8 cm Philadelphia Museum of Art: 125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with funds contributed by C. K. Williams, II, 1999 1999-50-1 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012) was an American artist, writer and poet. Aside from three weeks of tuition at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art in 1930, she was entirely self-taught. Although often described as a Surrealist artist, after the 1940s Tanning moved away from surrealist themes and evolved her own personal style. She lived with her fellow artist and husband, Max Ernst, in France from 1949 until Ernst’s death in 1976. In 1980, she moved to New York, and after a decade of studio art there, turned to writing and poetry in the 1990s, which she continued until her death at the age of 101.