I was listening to a podcast on where pornography and art intersect, following an interesting conversation with Nick (neé Saint) and several paintings were mentioned. The first of these which I will review is this glorious piece by Dorothea Tanning. Quite divisive, and not without good reason. It speaks of pubescence and angst and is really very peculiar. I shall try to dissect is as best I can.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is one of the best known of Dorothea Tanning’s early paintings. It shows what appears to be a hotel corridor with numbered doors, the farthest of which is open just enough to offer a glimpse of incandescent light. A giant sunflower and pieces of its torn stem lie on the landing. Two fallen petals lie further down the stairs and a third is held by a doll propped against one of the doorways. The doll is remarkably life-like and wears similar clothing to the girl standing nearby. Her status as a toy is only revealed by her hairline and the regularly moulded contours of her torso. Tate

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 Dorothea Tanning

Tanning spent her adolescence, trapped among Lutherans in Galesburg, Illinois. This painting rather baffles me. The farther child seems to be dreaming of something, with her blouse open appearing to have the body of an older woman.  The closer one is  transfixed with her hair straight up transfixed by an enormous sunflower she seems to have conjured. I read a Guardian article (shock, horror) arguing that the nearer girl’s hair is stood up in a way to give charge and energy to the painting overall. A door in the corner is ajar seeming to open up into either a desert or an inferno. Both girls seem to be on the cusp of womanhood and this picture seems to be an allegory of the seismic change which comes with puberty. The ramifications of going through puberty seem to be quite dire. I suppose in a way it also highlights the power of dreaming, especially in young women.

[Two] young girls in the corridor of a hotel. One leans against a doorframe, eyes closed and blouse undone, while the other contemplates a gigantic sunflower lying on the floor. Have the girls somehow conjured or engorged this monstrous bloom? The hair of the second girl, which rises upright into the air, suggests some power transmitted between them, a surge of fertile electricity, while the yellow light coming from an open door at the end of the corridor (the motif of the open window or light at the end of the tunnel recurs in her early work) is here at once hopeful and trepidatious. Apollo Magazine

I want to highlight her 1944 Self Portrait. Tanning painted this piece in a large rectangular space where the temperature reached levels which made her want to cry. This shows us that she felt she was on the cusp of something. What, one cannot possibly stipulate. I think this piece is introspective and honest. It shows her small in a vast landscape, looking to a distant citadel or rock formation. This is wonderful for me, a bit simple on the details perhaps but certainly impressive in its scope.

Overall Tanning has posed me rather a challenge in this post. I am not sure what to make of her surrealist masterpiece. I have proposed some of my conclusions but must admit I am not entirely sure of their accuracy. Some consider this work derivative and second rate. I am not immediately inclined to agree, I think there is a lot of merit to it and I am delighted that reviewing it has opened me up to Tanning’s world and her works, including Lee Miller’s photography of her and Max Ernst, with whom she lived in the Sedona Arizona desert. I hope this has at least been marginally interesting for you all.

Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity