Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Dorothea Tanning, 1943
It’s about confrontation. Everyone believes he/she is his/her drama. While they don’t always have giant sunflowers (most aggressive of flowers) to contend with, there are always stairways, hallways, even very private theatres where the suffocations and the finalities are being played out, the blood red carpet or cruel yellows, the attacker, the delighted victim …
― Dorothea Tanning in a letter
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was made while Tanning was staying with her companion, the artist Max Ernst, in Sedona, Arizona. It was their first trip to this area in which they would later live for several years. In her memoir, Birthday, Tanning recalls how Mozart was a favourite topic of conversation at that time, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is titled after one of one of his most well-known serenades (Birthday, p.85). By the door of the ranch Tanning planted some sunflower seeds and she became fascinated with these plants. She told the author that she saw the sunflower in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as ‘a symbol of all the things that youth has to face and to deal with,’ and has said that it represented the ‘never-ending battle we wage with unknown forces, the forces that were there before our civilisation’. The apparent intervention of unexplained or supernatural forces in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik recalls characteristics of the Gothic novels that Tanning read in her youth, and which were admired by many of the artists and writers of the surrealist group with whom she associated in the 1940s and beyond.
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photo © DACS, 2002