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Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Dorothea Tanning 1943

Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012 is one of the most enigmatic works of modern art. It has a darkness to it, although it is classified as a surrealism it is more symbolic. But what is it that it is trying to symbolize?

The corridor at the top of a flight of stairs, a hotel, a boarding house, a brothel? There are four doors. Numbered from left to right 207 205 203 the fourth door 201 is open slightly a light from inside streams across the blood red carpet.

Is room 201 significant. Many upscale American hotels number their Honeymoon suite 201, is this room a honeymoon suite?

In the middle of the painting is a large fallen sunflower. It seems to have been growing from the middle of the floor. Some of its petals have been ripped off. Two of them from the top of the flower now lay on the stairs, sometimes interpreted as gloves or even severed hands, they lay ripped from their place of prominence discarded.

Another petal has been ripped off and is held in the hand of a blonde girl leaning in the doorway of room 207. She wears a white dress that has been pulled down to her waist. A red jacket open so her chest is exposed. Her long blonde hair hangs straight down beyond her waist. Her legs are covered by white stockings and shoes. She looks strange. Her face seems to be almost a mask. Emotionless. It doesn’t fit her head physically more like a cheap child’s doll than a real person.

The other figure in the painting is a brunette girl. She is dressed in all white, the same style of dress as the blonde. Her back is to us, her hair stands straight up and her fists are clenched, a flight or fight response. Did she destroy the sunflower? Or is it the door of 201 opening that has her in this state?

As broken as the girl in the doorway looks her companion is alive. Her long black hair twisting upward the tension across her shoulders, even the ribbon hanging down the back of her dress suggest imminent movement. She is not going to run, not going to give up without a fight.

Tanning herself suggested in a 1999 letter to the Tate collection, who now own the painting, that it is all about conflict:
“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…”

When asked in 2002 what she’d like to have achieved as an artist Tanning replied: “I’d be satisfied with having suggested that there is more than meets the eye.”