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Le mal oublié

Le mal oublié
signed and dated 'Tanning 55' (lower right)
oil on canvas
51 1⁄8 x 63 3⁄4 in. (129.8 x 162 cm.)
Painted in Huismes in 1955
William and Noma Copley, Longpont (acquired from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, 1959.
A. Bosquet, Dorothea Tanning, Paris, 1966, p. 92 (illustrated).
“Dorothea Tanning,” Mizue, vol. 803, December 1971, p. 73 (illustrated).
G. Plazy, Dorothea Tanning, Paris, 1976, pp. 50-51 (illustrated in color and detail illustrated in color, p. 49).
D. Tanning, “Dorothea Her Lights and Shadows (A Scenario),” XXe Siècle, September 1976, p. 99 (illustrated).
J.C. Bailly, Dorothea Tanning, New York, 1995, p. 29 (illustrated in color, p. 112).
A. Rowley, “Lapses of Taste: On Dorothea Tanning,” Women’s Art Journal, no. 66, 1995, p. 17.
M. Sundberg, “The Metamorphosis of Dorothea Tanning: On the Painting Insomnias," Konsthistorisk tidskrift, Journal of Art History, vol. 79, no. 1, March 2010, pp. 24 and 31.
V. Carruthers, “Dorothea Tanning and Her Gothic Imagination,” Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, vol. 5, no. 5, 2011, p. 151 (illustrated in color, p. 142).
Dorothea Tanning: Unknown but Knowable States, exh. cat., Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco, 2013, pp. 10-11 and 76.
S. Karam, “Challenging Ideologies: Contrasting Dorothea Tanning’s Mid-20th Century Animal Paintings with Contemporaneous Zoo Designs,” Athanor, vol. XXXII, 2014, p. 103.
A. Mahon, ed., Dorothea Tanning: Behind the Door, Another Invisible Door, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2018, p. 74.
M.J. Balsach, “Visions from the Desert: The Metamorphoses of Dorothea Tanning,” BRAC: Barcelona Research Creation, vol. 7, no. 3, October 2019, p. 329 (illustrated in color).
V. Carruthers, Dorothea Tanning: Transformations, London, 2020, pp. 116 and 122 (illustrated in color, p. 117).
Paris, Galerie Edouard Loeb and Galerie Mouradian Vallotton, Dorothea Tanning, May-June 1959.
Knokke-le-Zoute, Albert Plage Gemeentelijk Casino, Dorothea Tanning, June-August 1967, p. 34, no. 33 (illustrated).
Paris, Centre national d'art contemporain, Dorothea Tanning, May-July 1974, p. 76, no. 29 (illustrated).
Malmö Konsthall, Dorothea Tanning: Om Konst Kunde Tala, Retrospective, 1940-1993, April-May 1993, p. 135, no. 17 (illustrated, pl. 73).
London, Camden Arts Center, Dorothea Tanning, September-November 1993.
Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sweet Dreams and Nightmares: Dada and Surrealism from the Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection, March-May 2000, no. 30 (illustrated in color).
New York, Kent Gallery, Dorothea Tanning: Insomnias, Paintings from 1954-1965, October-December 2005, pp. 13-14, 43, 46, 57 and 69-70, no. 1 (illustrated in color, p. 21).
New York, Pace/MacGill Gallery, The Long Arm of Coincidence: Selections from the Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection, April-May 2009 (illustrated in color).
New York, Kasmin Gallery, Dorothea Tanning: Doesn't the Paint Say it All?, March-April 2022.
Post lot text
We are grateful to the Dorothea Tanning Foundation for their assistance in cataloguing this work.

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Lot Essay

A seminal painting in Dorothea Tanning’s oeuvre, Le mal oublié marks a turning point and the beginning of a new phase for the artist. Often referred to as prismatic or kaleidoscopic, this innovative mature period is a true departure from earlier applications of surrealism. In the mid-1950s and commencing with this picture, Tanning adopts a new vocabulary inching closer to abstraction, focusing less on detailed fantastical scenes in favor of freer, multicolored compositions. Even in the most fractured canvases executed in this style, Tanning held onto effigies of figuration. This balance between figuration and abstraction in Tanning’s career was recently highlighted in an exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery, New York, entitled, Dorothea Tanning: Doesnt the Paint Say It All?.

The artist has stated: “Around 1955, my canvases literally splintered. Their colors came out of the closet, you might say, to open the rectangles to a different light. They were prismatic, surfaces where I veiled, suggested and floated my persistent icons and preoccupations, in another of the thousand ways of saying the same things” (quoted in Between Lives: An Artist and Her World, New York, 2001, p. 178). After years spent on and off in Sedona, Tanning and her husband, Max Ernst, purchased a property in Huismes in 1954. This farmhouse in the Loire Valley remained their home for the next decade and lay witness to fruitful creativity for both artists. From a photograph taken by Lee Miller in Tanning’s studio, it can be confirmed that this work was painted at Huismes.

Jean Christophe Bailly wrote on the present work, “Here there is no abrupt caesura—nor is there any amputation of early obsessions and a way of painting them. There is no visible break in her concentration on images of rather Gothic melancholy charm and their pervasive mood of uneasiness. Early preoccupations will show up in the entire oeuvre, in tonalities, in skewed architecture, in moods; above all, in their isolation. Nonetheless, there are distinct changes in the artist’s approach to her canvases. Connected one after the other by tenuous filaments, the paintings ranging from Le mal oublié (1955) to Les chiens de Cythère (1963), share Dorothea Tanning’s vision of her world as a kaleidoscope of restless forms, vast community of inflections that prismatically reveal and conceal the layers of her consciousness. In Le mal oublié, yellow gold like pollen seems to fill the blue rectangle, haloing its figural center, a child who kneels at lower right. Prismatic, even evanescent, the memory-figure will from now on occupy rather than dominate. It will be a blossoming within the confines of a painted world just as chance and our (all too human) reference will form a face or other known image in clouds moving across the sky” (op. cit., 1995, p. 29).

The Jacobses purchased Le mal oublié in 1959 from William and Noma Copley. Shortly after this acquisition, Mel and Roz met the artist through the Copleys and became lifelong friends, corresponding with her through heartfelt letters and postcards. Ahead of her first major retrospective in 1974 at the Centre nationale d’art contemporain in Paris, Tanning contacted the Jacobses to loan their picture and invited them to the vernissage, writing: “In any case this is my big moment (maybe you’ll be here? May 28), a kind of official consecration of a life of painting.”

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