Born on August 25, 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois, Dorothea Tanning studied at Knox College in her hometown before moving to Chicago to pursue painting at the Art Institute.
Her collections of poetry include Coming to That (Graywolf, 2011) and A Table of Content (2004). She is also the author of two memoirs, Birthday (1986) and Between Lives: An Artist and Her World (2001); and a novel, Chasm (2004).
After discovering Dada and Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936, Tanning began working as a painter in New York. As she recounts in her memoirs, when the famed German artist Max Ernst visited her studio in 1942, they played chess, fell in love, and embarked on a life together that soon took them to Sedona, Arizona, and later to Paris and provincial France. She married Ernst in 1946 in a double wedding with artist Man Ray and dancer Juliet Browner.
About her work, Barry Schwabsky, writing for The Nation has said:
As with everything else [Tanning] has turned her hand to, she's made poetry her own...I've never met her, but simply knowing of her existence expands my sense of the possible in art and life.
Her paintings and sculptures are included in major museum collections such as the Tate Gallery, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée de la Ville de Paris, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Chicago Art Institute, among others.
Dorothea Tanning died on January 31, 2012, at the age of 101.