The Tate Gallery announced today the acquisition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 (A Little Night-music), one of the best known works of the Surrealist painter and sculptor Dorothea Tanning and an outstanding example of Surrealist dream painting. The purchase was largely funded by the National Art Collections Fund and the American Fund for the Tate Gallery. The painting will be displayed at the Tate Gallery until 28 February and from 30 March 1998-Spring 1999 as part of the display, Surrealism Between the Wars.
Dorothea Tanning was born in 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois, USA, where, she once said, ‘nothing happens but the wallpaper’. Reacting against the dreary predictability of her environment, she developed a rich and complex fantasy life. In this she was influenced by her early reading of Gothic and romantic literature, and later described herself as ‘forever corrupted’ by such authors as Poe, Flaubert, Radcliffe, Walpole, and the Brontës. She eventually moved to New York where she first discovered Surrealism and then met all the leading Surrealists after their arrival in exile from the Second World War. Tanning soon became a significant contributor to the Surrealist movement and her work was included in many influential exhibitions at that time. In 1946 she married the leading Surrealist artist, Max Ernst. Dorothea Tanning continues to live and work in New York.
The title of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik may be ironic, since it is that of one of Mozart’s most loved and lighthearted compositions, while the painting has distinctly sinister undertones. It is one of several by Tanning in which figures appear in hotel-like corridors whose doors suggest a range of symbolic meanings - choices in life, openings to the world of the unconscious. Here only one door is open, offering a mysterious invitation. The little girls, and the disparities of scale between them, the doors and a giant wilting sunflower, also evoke the world of Alice in Wonderland, a book much admired by the Surrealists. The art historian Whitney Chadwick has linked the violent wind blowing the girls’ hair and clothes to Tanning’s description of her birth as ‘a day of high wind. A regular hurricane that blew down one of the three poplars in front of our house. My mother was terrified. So I was born’.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was bought from the artist in 1946 by the British Surrealist artist and great collector of Surrealist art, Sir Roland Penrose, and the work has since appeared in innumerable exhibitions worldwide. A licence for export to America was refused by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport in 1997 before its recent acquisition by the Tate.
The acquisition has been made possible by the independent art charity, the National Art Collections Fund, and the American Fund for the Tate Gallery. The American Fund was established in 1988 with an endowment from Sir Edwin Manton and the resulting income has enabled the purchase of paintings and sculptures by American artists for the Tate Gallery.