Family Portrait

Dorothea Tanning-Family Portrait 1954
Dorothea Tanning-Family Portrait 1954

Dorothea Tanning remarked on her childhood in Galesburg, Illinois that nothing happened but the wallpaper, however everything, even wallpaper, is grist to the true artists mill and she succeeded during her long and incredibly productive life to create memorable works set in conventional domestic spaces filled with mystery, confrontation and revelation.

Family Portrait was painted in Sedona, Arizona, where Tanning lived with her husband Max Ernst for part of every year until they moved to France permanently in 1957 . The painting is dominated by the huge father (or husband) figure wearing sinister mirrored round glasses in the background. The size of each figure seems entirely dependent on their status within the family group. The perky daughter (or wife) with her large and expressive eyes sits level at the table with its crisp linen and strange dishes, dwarfing the housekeeper who is little bigger  than the small dog on its hindquarters begging for its dinner. The muted colours add to the ominous and oppressive atmosphere. Family Portrait is a suburban Gothic drama of hidden tensions and Wonderland-like changes in scale that lingers unnervingly in the memory.

Bestiary

 

Leonora Carrington-The 4706th Floor
Leonora Carrington-The 4706th Floor

The beasts
(A vivid bestiary indeed:
Eerie condor atop a desolate eyrie;
Aloof snow leopard alone in her Kingdom of Bones;
Ravening wild dogs scouring the steppes;
Scaled dragon protecting his hoard of gold;
Fantastical drolleries, grotesque hybrids,
Horrific metamorphosis, decanate aspects,
Demonic synthesis, alien creations)
of my nature
Are straining
At the end of their tether.
Maybe, in an act of self division,
I will let them off the leash
To mount a ceaseless attack
Upon the most dangerous of beasts:
Man, that mad animal.