Lines and Colors art blog

Henry Ossawa Tanner (update)

Henry Ossawa Tanner
Henry Ossawa Tanner was a superb American painter, active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who I first wrote about in 2012.

Since then, I’m happy to report, online resources for viewing his work have expanded considerably, notably on The Athenaeum and Wikimedia Commons. You can find additional resources through Artcyclopedia and on my previous post.

Tanner was noted for landscapes, figures and portraits, but in particular for his portrayal of Biblical scenes and contemporary views of locations in the eastern Mediterranean that were of Biblical significance.

Tanner’s mother was born into slavery, but escaped by way of the Underground Railroad. Tanner was born in Pittsburgh and his family moved to Philadelphia while he was still a child.

There, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with Thomas Eakins, among others, and encountered other artistic luminaries such as Robert Henri.

Outside of his circle of artistic supporters, Tanner encountered so much racism in Philadelphia — and in Atlanta were he tried to establish a photography studio — that when he traveled to Europe and found acceptance as a painter, he emigrated and spent the remainder of his career there, with only brief visits back to the U.S.

Although Tanner downplayed his role as the first African-American painter to gain international recognition, among his notable portraits is the one shown above, third from the bottom, of pioneering civil rights advocate Booker T. Washington.

I have always been fascinated by Tanner’s painting The Annunciation — here in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (image above, top) — with its striking representation of the Angel Gabriel as an otherworldly shaft of golden light. It wasn’t until I saw a stunning and extensive show of Tanner’s work at PAFA in 2012 that I realized how extraordinary was his use of light throughout his varied experiments with style and subject.

For more, see my previous post on Henry Ossawa Tanner.


5 responses to “Henry Ossawa Tanner (update)”

  1. Thank you for this. I first discovered Mr. Tanner’s work when I was a child. The banjo lesson pulled me in, and my imagination soared. Perhaps I will finally buy a copy of the print this year. You’ve certainly inspired me today.

    1. Thanks, Limner. I’m always glad when I can add a little inspiration to someone’s day!

  2. Richard Sica Avatar
    Richard Sica

    A wonderful choice Charley An extraordinary painter. His religious paintings are painted by a real mystic and visionary.
    I have always admired his wonderful use of theatrical lighting that adds mystery and depth to his works.
    Al last he is getting the recognition and praise that is his due.
    He lived at a horrible time and as you mentioned fled to a more accepting climate. Although things have changed, the ugly face of racism seems poised to make a comeback.

  3. Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), the renowned African-American artist who spent most of his life in France after declaring in 1891 that he could ‘not fight prejudice and paint at the same time.’

    From the book with the same name. H.O.T.

  4. Conversation, the video 8′:34″
    PBS News Hour