Tanning was the last living member of the surrealist movement, wife of Max Ernst and published her first novel at the age of 94
From her first picture, aged 15, of a nude woman with leaves for hair, Tanning's paintings, sculptures and drawings almost always depicted the female human form, usually in strange, dreamlike scenarios. By the 50s she had abandoned surrealism in favour of more abstract "prism paintings".
In 2002 she told Salon: "I guess I'll be called a surrealist forever, like a tattoo: D. Loves S. But please don't say I'm carrying the surrealist banner. The movement ended in the 50s and my own work had moved on so far by the 60s that being a called a surrealist today makes me feel like a fossil!"
Her work is in the collections of many galleries around the world including the Tate and MoMA in New York, and influenced artists including Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois.
Tanning found further acclaim late in life through her writing. Her first novel was published when she was 94, while her poetry featured in such eminent publications as the New Republic and the Paris Review. In 2001 she published a memoir of her long and action-packed life.
Tanning was born in 1910 in Galesburg, Illinois, moving to New York in 1936, where she saw the MoMA show Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, which persuaded her that there was a place for her work. She went to Paris in 1940, where she met Ernst two years later. She said proudly that he never called her "wife", adding "I'm very much against the arrangement of procreation, at least for humans. If I could have designed it, it would be a toss-up who gets pregnant, the man or woman."
As well as painting and sculpture, she designed sets for the legendary choreographer George Balanchine, and a house in the south of France for her and Ernst. Their circle of friends included Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marcel Duchamp, Truman Capote and Dylan Thomas.
Though she concentrated on her writing in later years, her work continued to be shown in galleries, and is currently featured in an exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art called In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.
Tanning would not have enjoyed the title, once describing the term "woman artist" as "disgusting". She also said: "Art has always been the raft on to which we climb to save our sanity. I don't see a different purpose for it now."
A statement from MoMA said: "We are saddened by the loss of two great artists today: Dorothea Tanning and Mike Kelley."