Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)
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Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)

A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)
A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today
signed and dated 'Dorothea Tanning '44' (lower right); titled (along the lower edge)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 15 1/2 in. (46.1 x 39.4 cm.)
Painted in 1944
Thomas Fine Howard, New York, by 1948 and until 1983.
Acquired by the present owner in October 2006.
D. Tanning, "Note Bibliographique", in Dorothea Tanning, Paris, 1966, p. 152.
P. Waldberg, "Dorothea Tanning et les enfants de la nuit", in Exh. cat., Dorothea Tanning, Brussels, 1967, p. 8.
A. Bosquet, La peinture de Dorothea Tanning, Paris, 1966, no. 31, p. 155 (illustrated p. 31; dated 1945).
P. Waldberg, Les demeures d'Hypnos, Paris, 1976, pp. 314-318.
G. Plazy, Dorothea Tanning, Paris, 1976, p. 13 (illustrated).
J. Krichbaum & R. A. Zondergeld, Dictionary of Fantastic Art, London, 1977, p. 209.
J. Russell, "Le 'Moi' multiforme de Dorothea Tanning", in Numéro special de XXe Siècle, Paris, 1977, p. 51 (illustrated p. 49).
Exh. cat., Dada and Surrealism reviewed, London, 1978, p. 446.
D. Tanning, "Some parallels in words and pictures", in Pequod: A journal of contemporary literature and literary criticism, New York, 1989, p. 173.
S. Wilson "Between lives", in exh. cat., Dorothea Tanning, Between lives, works on paper, London, 1989, pp. 7-8.
J. Russell, "The Several Selves of Dorothea Tanning”, in exh. cat., Dorothea Tanning, Malmö, 1993, pp. 14, 15 (illustrated p. 14).
J. C. Bailly & R.C. Morgan, Dorothea Tanning, New York, 1995, p. 56 (illustrated pl. 9).
M. A. Caws, “Person: Tanning’s self-portraiture” in The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter, Cambridge, Massachusetts,1997, p. 92.
V. Carruthers, “Dorothea Tanning and her gothic imagination”, in Journal of Surrealism and the Americas 5, no. 1, 2011, pp. 151-153 (illustrated fig. 6)
K. Conley, “Dorothea Tanning’s Gothic Ghostliness” in Surrealist Ghostliness, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2013, p. 122.

St. Louis, City Art Museum, 38th Annual Exhibition, February - March 1945, no. 74 (titled 'A Mr. Radcliffe called today').
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, Recent Paintings by Dorothea Tanning, January 1948, no. 14.
Knokke-Le Zoute, Casino Communal, XXe Festival belge d'été, Dorothea Tanning, June - August 1967, no. 3, p. 17 (illustrated).
Paris, Centre national d'art contemporain, Dorothea Tanning, May - July 1974, no. 6, p. 28 (illustrated).
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Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

Executed in 1944, A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today dates from a period in Dorothea Tanning’s career of direct involvement with Surrealism. Built around the structure of gothic arches and flying buttresses, the picture evokes a series of ghostly apparitions. Sinister tassels and locks of human hair populate the niches of the arches like a series of eerie human remains. In the claustrophobic space enclosed by the wall, a young girl – more evanescent than real – is running, her flaming red hair dishevelled and her white dress floating in the air. The darkness of the interior creates a stark contrast with the light of the outside: dazzling and disorienting, it collapses all sense of time or duration. The repetition of the symbols – the red hair, the tassels – creates the impression of return, of a nightmarish cycle of events. Vulnerable, and at the same time empowered by her dominating presence in this unsettling space, the girl appears both as possible prey and predator.

In 1936, Tanning saw the exhibition ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism’ organised at the Museum of Modern Art. The experience marked a pivotal moment in her career: in her biography Tanning described it as a ‘real explosion, rocking me on my run-over heels. Here is the infinitely faceted world I must have been waiting for’ (D. Tanning, Between Lives, New York, 2001, p. 49). In the next following years Tanning wished to reach Paris; the war however ‘brought Paris to [her]’ (‘Questions pour Dorothea Tanning: entretien avec Alain Jouffroy, Mars 1974’, pp. 43-52, in Dorothea Tanning, exh. cat., Paris, 1974, p. 43). Exiled from Europe, most of the Surrealists in fact arrived to New York; among them was Max Ernst, whom Tanning met in 1942 and eventually married in 1946. A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today was thus executed in a moment of effervescent creativity: finally clear about the universe she wanted to explore and surrounded by artists who shared and understood her call, in the 1940s Tanning produced her most spectacular and memorable works.

A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today appears as a homage to the woman who influenced Tanning’s work the most. The title of the picture refers to Ann Radcliffe, an eighteenth-century novelist who pioneered the gothic genre. Her novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) narrates the story of a young woman escaping the disturbing castle of Udolpho. Evoking the sinister character of a Gothic fortress and portraying a fleeting image of a girl, A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today appears to relate to the novel, which Tanning certainly read. Looking back onto her career, the artist would remember: ‘In the forties I was in a kind of gothic mood. The mood of longing for a displacement, of another time, another place. I had read gothic novels at that time. They were permeated with this mist of mysterious and unpredictable atmospheres of places that I didn't know about...’ (From interview with Roland Hagenberg, "Dorothea Tanning," Art of Russia and the West, No. 1 (March 1989), p. 31). In 1988, longing for the present work which the artist had sold in 1945, Tanning executed two collages evoking her desire to reunite with the picture, Mrs. Radcliffe Called Again (Left No Message) and Still Calling Still Hoping. Capturing a crucial moment in the artist’s career and conceived as a direct homage to the gothic aspirations of her work at the time, A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today is a compelling work triggered by that wave of Surrealism which invaded New York during the Second World War.

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