On Fire

Media - 1995.10 - SAAM-1995.10_1 - 52088
Copied Dorothea Tanning, On Fire, 1949, pencil and colored pencil on paper, sheet and image: 13 789 78 in. (35.425.1 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Gibson Fahnestock, 1995.10

Artwork Details

On Fire
Not on view
sheet and image: 13 789 78 in. (35.425.1 cm)
Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Gibson Fahnestock
Mediums Description
pencil and colored pencil on paper
  • Portrait female — Tanning, Dorothea — full length
  • Occupation — art — painter
  • Occupation — art — printmaker
  • Occupation — art — sculptor
  • Disaster — fire
  • Occupation — art — designer
Object Number

Artwork Description

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