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On Fire

1949 Dorothea Tanning Born: Galesburg, Illinois 1910 Died: New York, New York 2012 pencil and colored pencil on paper sheet and image: 13 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (35.4 x 25.1 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Gibson Fahnestock 1995.10 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

The breathless, fleeing girl with clothing in flames epitomizes Tanning’s surreal narratives. The ambiguity of the half-clothed figure suggests a state of metamorphosis. Her forward thrust is thwarted by a brick wall that swallows her forearms. As in a nightmare. Tanning had fled Paris on the brink of war in 1939, and she returned in 1949 to a devastated city. Despite the possible biographical connection, the meaning of this image is unclear because, as the artist explained, “My work is about the enigmatic, about leaving the door open to imagination.”

Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2009


Disaster - fire

Occupation - art - designer

Occupation - art - painter

Occupation - art - printmaker

Occupation - art - sculptor

Portrait female - Tanning, Dorothea - full length

Portrait female - Tanning, Dorothea - self-portrait



paper - wove paper