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Dorothea Tanning

On Fire
1949
pencil and colored pencil
14 x 9 7/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Gibson Fahnestock

The breathless, fleeing girl, hair streaming and clothing in flames, summarizes some of Tanning’s most persistent themes. The ambiguity of the figure half-clothed and half-naked suggests a state of metamorphosis. The running figure's forward thrust is stopped short 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. Yet the meaning of this image is not clear, because, as the artist explained: "My work is about the enigmatic, about leaving the door open to imagination."