Dorothea Tanning, 'Some Roses and Their Phantoms' 1952
Dorothea Tanning
Some Roses and Their Phantoms 1952
Oil on canvas
support: 763 x 1015 x 23 mm
frame: 973 x 1225 x 82 mm
Presented by the Tate Collectors Forum 2003© DACS, 2002

Creative writing / language activity

Gallery: Tate Modern
Materials: Pencils, paper, gallery map, stools
Preparation: Please contact us to check if the artworks will be on display when you plan to visit, email:

Introduction to the activity

Many women artists played a significant role in the history of surrealism. For this activity we have deliberately chosen to focus on artists who may be unfamiliar to you, who explore ideas shared by more famous surrealist artists. Central to surrealism is the exploration of different possibilities of the imagination and how everyday objects can be seen in different or unexpected ways.

This activity can be adapted to suit the language level of your group. Please print this sheet to bring with you to the gallery. Additionally, you will also need to bring paper and pencils for the students to use when adding their responses. On your arrival please collect a map of the gallery as well as stools for your group before you head upstairs to Level 3.


  • Outside Poetry and Dream on Level 3, ask the group for their first responses to to the word ‘surrealism’ and either document their responses yourself or ask them to record these. Explain that you will return to these first responses at the end of the activity.
  • Use the gallery map to find the painting by Dorothea Tanning Some Roses and their Phantoms 1952. Sit down in front of this work and give students the list of words below. Ask the students to spend a few minutes deciding what word best fits the objects on the tablecloth.
  • Ask each person in the group to choose one of these words that they feel best fits the objects. Ask everyone to explain their reasons to the group. Record this or ask each person to write their reasons.
  • Notice the shape behind the tablecloth and ask the group if they feel any of these words also fit to this strange shape? Ask the group what else they notice about this painting, for example, what do they think will happen next?
  • Ask the group to write a sentence or two on what they think will happen and share this with each other (10–15 minute activity).
  • Then move to explore Eileen Agar’s work, Angel of Anarchy1936–40. Explore the textiles she has used to make this head. What do you notice about the range of media she has used? She has included textiles from a range of Asian and African sources, as well as using a shell near one ear and some jewellery. Think about the mood this gives the work. Some people find this artwork mysterious. Notice the date it was made and ask the group to think about what was happening in Europe at this time. You might want to ask the group to record, through drawing and writing, any particular aspect of these materials that appeal, in order to remember this for work back at your work place.

Follow-up activity

Eileen Agar, Autobiography of an Embryo 1933–34
Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943

If you have a large group, ask some people to find Eileen Agar’s Marine Object 1939 in the same room and afterwards swap over. Ask the group to say or write what they notice first about this painting, for example the childlike animal figure, the damaged building or the odd-looking meat hanging up.

  • Once everyone has had a chance to look at the two works, discuss how they relate to the theme of Poetry and Dream. What sorts of dreams are shown in each? How can we describe them?
  • Finish the activity by returning to the original words as each group member used to describe the objects. Ask the group why they think these two paintings and the theme of other works in the room are placed in the Landscape suite?
  • It may be relevant here to discuss ideas of metaphor and how these inner landscapes of dreams and imagination are shown in these artworks (total activity length 25–30 minutes).
  • You may wish to discuss with your group possible reasons why the work of Salvador Dalí or René Magritte are better known by the general public than any of the artists discussed above.