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Dorothea Tanning- A Woman For Whom Max Ernst Left His Wife

20th century

Dorothea Tanning- A Woman For Whom Max Ernst Left His Wife

They fell in love while playing chess. After they had met at a party, Max Ernst passed by her studio to consider her works for his wife’s newly opened museum-gallery Art of This Century and was enchanted by this self-portrait:

I, Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning, Birthday, 1942, Philadelphia Museum of Art. ©The Estate of Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning, Birthday, 1942, Philadelphia Museum of Art. ©The Estate of Dorothea Tanning

Not only did Dorothea Tanning show at this exhibition, which featured only female artists, she also conquered Ernst’s heart. Peggy Guggenheim, who married Ernst a year before in 1941, recalled she always regretted organizing this show, as it somehow catalyzed Dorothea’s and Ernst’s love. But it was too late: Ernst divorced Peggy in 1946 and left to live with Dorothea in Sedona, Arizona.

“It’s about confrontation. Everyone believes he/she is his/her drama.”

Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, 1943, Tate Modern

Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, 1943, Tate Modern


This is how Dorothea described this Surrealist painting whose title is deceitfully called a ‘little serenade’ exactly as Mozart’s piece. Dorothea’s marriage with Ernst was about confrontation, too: her work was often overshadowed by his fame, and life with Ernst was not an easy one. After a couple of years in Sedona where they started an ‘artists’ colony’, they had to emigrate to France because Ernst was refused American citizenship. Yet, despite ups and downs they stayed together till his death in 1976.

Solitary work

Dorothea Tanning, Max in a Blue Boat, 1947, Max Ernst Museum, Brühl

Dorothea Tanning, Max in a Blue Boat, 1947, Max Ernst Museum, Brühl

Dorothea decided to return home and having to face a solitary life, she threw herself into the world of words: she still painted, and even sculpted, but her main focus was literature. She wrote poetry, novels. She died at her home in New York City on January 31, 2012.  She was 101 years old, and had just published her second collection of poems, Coming to That (Graywolf Press, 2011).

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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