Well… no, it’s not mine… but “Birthday” is the title of this beautiful Surrealist painting by the amazing Dorthea Tanning.


I was reminded of this painting yesterday and I had a completely different reaction to it than I have had in the past. This time, I feel like I was looking at myself. I am coming up on some big changes and moves in my personal, professional, and academic life… and I felt like the symbolism in Tanning’s self portrait really leant itself to those kinds of feelings. Tanning stands in the room, bare-chested and vulnerable but at the same time gives off a sense of self and internal (read emotional) strength through the gaze of her eyes and the placement of her hand on the knob of the door; the first open door in a long stretch of rooms, each separated by opened doors. At Tanning’s feet, a mystical, winged creature waits patiently, ready to follow Tanning loyally through each door. Perhaps this creature represents all the currently intangible possibilities that lie just through those doors that do not exist in her reality yet… but they are certainly coming!

When I have personal moments like this, I am reminded about why I love Art History SO MUCH. I am really jazzed about starting school and getting to a place in my career when I can contributed to the immense art historical scholarship that already exists.

And, while I have you… if you are interested, a little background on this incredible woman, in her own words…


“Dorothea Tanning was born in 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois and attended Knox College in her hometown before studying painting in Chicago (haunting the Art Institute where she learned what painting was.)   In 1941, now in New York, she met the art dealer, Julien Levy, and his surrealist friends, refugees from Nazi occupied France. Late in 1942 Max Ernst visited her studio, saw a painting, (Birthday), and stayed to play chess. They would have 34 years together, at first in Sedona, Arizona (a mere outpost at the time).  Here she would continue to paint her enigmatic versions of life on the inside, looking out:The Guest Room, The Truth About Comets, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Interior with Sudden Joy, Insomnias, Palaestra, Tamerlane, Far From. By 1956 Max and Dorothea had chosen to live and work thenceforth in France. Though Paris was headquarters, they preferred the country quiet lure in Touraine and Provence. These years included, for Dorothea Tanning, an intense five‐year adventure in soft sculpture: CousinsDon Juan’s BreakfastFetishRainy Day CanapéTragic TableVerbXmasEmmaRevelation or the End of the Month, Hôtel du Pavot Room 202.

Max Ernst died on April 1, 1976 and Dorothea faced a solitary future. “Go home,” said the paint tubes, the canvases, the brushes. Returning to the United States in the late 1970s, and still painting, Tango LivesWoman ArtistOn AvalonDoor 84Still in the StudioBlue MomDionysos S.O.S., she gave full rein to her long felt compulsion to write.  Words, poetry.  Written, read, heard.  Would she join these voices even then? Her poems have since appeared in a number of literary reviews and magazines, such as The Yale ReviewPoetryThe Paris ReviewThe New YorkerThe Boston ReviewThe Southwest ReviewParnassus, and in Best Poems of 2002 and 2005. Her published works include two memoirs, Birthday and Between Lives, a collection of poems, A Table of Content, and a novel, Chasm.” (From the Biography page on Tanning’s own website)


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