|Portrait by Man Ray, 1946, age 36|
Background: Dorothea was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois. Her parents were Swedish immigrants who were devout Lutherans.
Training: Dorothea is one of the few women artists to attain success without formal art training. Her parents wanted her to be a teacher, so she attended Knox College for 2 years. The school had no art courses, but she drew and painted in her spare time. In 1930, when she was 20, she escaped to Chicago. She enrolled in an art academy, but dropped out after 3 weeks, saying that no one could teach her to be an artist. She claimed she taught herself to paint by haunting the Art Institute while supporting herself with odd jobs.
Career: In 1935, when she was 25, Dorothea moved to New York City, where she did commercial illustrations for Macy’s until, in 1941, her private work was discovered by an art dealer who began to show her paintings. He also introduced her to the in-group of Surrealists who had fled Europe at the start of World War II, including Max Ernst. She felt an immediate bond because she, too, painted from her imagination, depicting inner states instead of objective reality. Max was so taken with her work that he persuaded his wife, the famous art patron, Peggy Guggenheim, to include one of her paintings in an exhibit of contemporary women painters.
Artwork: As a leading Surrealist in the 1940s, Dorothea was well known for her vivid renderings of dream imagery. She was meticulous in her attention to details and in building up surfaces with carefully muted brushstrokes. During this period, she also designed sets and costumes for ballets and films.
In the mid-1950s, Dorothea changed her painting style, making "prism" paintings, which she later named "Insomnias." These are enigmatic canvases in which bodies and body parts, barely discernible visages, and biomorphic forms float in dream spaces generated by fractured planes and diaphanous scrims.
In the early 1970s she switched from painting to soft sculpture—creating amorphous, Surreal figures with an old Singer sewing machine.
After she had reached 80, she gained a different kind of attention when she began to concentrate on writing, producing a novel, an autobiography and poetry
From about 1944 to 1949, Dorothea and Max lived in Sedona, a small town in Arizona, where they confronted nature and became the center of a small art colony. In 1949 they relocated to France, returning to Sedona periodically. They lived in Paris, and later in Provence.
|Dorothea in 2002|
In 1980, when she was 70 years old, she relocated her home and studio to New York and entered a creative period in which she produced many other art forms as well as painting.
She also began to focus on her writing; she had produced poems and stories throughout her career. In 1986 she published her first memoir, and she continued to publish poetry and memoirs for the remainder of her life.
She said that she loved being married to Max Ernst, and that he did everything he could to encourage her artistically, but that as a widow she had come to see how much her self-esteem was stifled by the relationship. By the same token, her career has always been over-shadowed by his.
My photos of Dorothea's work:
Philadelphia / Jan's photo, 2010
|Child's Play, 1942|
Dallas / Jan's photo, 2012
SFMOMA / Jan's photo
|On Time Off Time, 1948|
MoMA / Jan's photo
|Half-Past Noon, 1957|
Pennsylvania Academy / Jan's photo, 2012
|A Little Night Music, 1943|
|The Truth about Comets, 1945|