FeminismGeneral ArtPaintingVisual Art

Dorothea Tanning and the Women in the Shadows

Over a decade ago I painted a series of paintings about women artists who were not ever really recognized in their lifetime because they had been married to other famous artists. I was reminded of this project just the other day when I read that Dorothea Tanning, surrealist painter, poet and wife of Max Ernst had passed away at age 101.

If you ask the general public what names they recognize from the following list, you likely will not be too surprised with the results.

Pablo Picasso
Dora Maar
Max Ernst
Dorothea Tanning
Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo
Jackson Pollock
Lee Krasner

Most average people, those without an art education will likely recognize most, if not all of the names in bold. Some, thanks to a major motion picture about her life after her death, may also recognize the name Frida Kahlo, but not necessarily.

Sadly, each of the women listed under the names of the men where also talented artists in their own right. None received even half the accolades as their partners did during their lifetimes while often doing much of the same work. Lee Krasner for example, is credited with pioneering color field painting. You know, that style of art that Pollock gained his fame from. It seems when a man picks up a paintbrush it is often considered legitimate work. When a women does the same, it is craft or a hobby. And when a man and a woman create art together at least in the days of surrealism, abstract impressionism, cubism and well, pretty much all of art history, the woman often ended up in the shadows.

In the words of Dorothea Tanning:

Many years ago today

I took a husband tenderly

This simple human gentle act

Seen as a hard decisive fact

By all who dote on category

Did stain my work indelibly

I don’t know why that is

For it has not stained his.

Hopefully times will change but in the meantime, take a few moments to remember and appreciate some of the partners and lovers of famous artists that were often overlooked.

A Series of Painting from 2002 by Amy Davis Roth. Top to bottom: Lee Krasner in Blue, Dora Maar in Red and Frida Kahlo in Green

Sorry for the crappy quality of the images above. I sold the paintings about 10 years ago and sadly I don’t have any good photos of them. The featured image is a painting I did called, The Library.

Click here to find some of the photography of Dora Maar Dora also painted and is known to have painted a few strokes of the famous Picasso painting Guernica. And she photographed the painting of the piece as well.

Dorothea Tanning was a surrealist painter, poet and set designer. Her work is currently on display at the LACMA In Wonderland exhibit.

Frida Kahlo is arguably the most famous of the women listed but Diego was far more respected for his work. You can see some paintings by Frida here. Her work is also included in the LACMA Wonderland exhibit.

Lee Krasner, as I mentioned above is credited with pioneering color field painting and you can see a selection of her work here.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. This is a lovely, bittersweet post. I love your paintings and that Dorothea Tanning poem.

    I will say that I knew who Frida Kahlo was long before I knew who Diego Rivera was.

  2. Lee Krasner’s art was introduced to me during a Women in Art class. When I first saw it, I was floored – her work was, in my opinion, SO much stronger & more interesting than Pollock’s. Knowing how much more famous her husband’s inferior (to me) work is still inflames the indignant art history geek in me.

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