Henry Ossawa Tanner
|Henry Ossawa Tanner|
Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1907.
|Birth name||Henry Ossawa Tanner|
June 21, 1859|
|Died||May 25, 1937
Early life 
Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, PA. His father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner was a minister, editor, and political activist. His mother Sarah Tanner had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. The family moved to Philadelphia when Tanner was young; his father becoming a friend, sometime supporter, sometime critic of Template:Benjamin Tucker.
Although many artists refused to accept an African-American apprentice, in 1879 Tanner enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, becoming the only black student. His decision to attend the school came at an exciting time in the history of artistic institutional training. Art academies had long relied on tired notions of study devoted almost entirely to plaster cast studies and anatomy lectures. This changed drastically with the addition of Thomas Eakins as “Professor of Drawing and Painting” to the Pennsylvania Academy. Eakins encouraged new methods such as study from live models, direct discussion of anatomy in male and female classes, and dissections of cadavers to further familiarity and understanding of the human body. Eakins’s progressive views and ability to excite and inspire his students would have a profound effect on Tanner. The young artist proved to be one of Eakins’s favorite students; two decades after Tanner left the Academy Eakins painted his portrait, making him one of a handful of students to be so honored. At the Academy Tanner befriended artists with whom he would keep in contact throughout the rest of his life, most notable of these being Robert Henri, one of the founders of the Ashcan School. During a relatively short time at the Academy, Tanner developed a thorough knowledge of anatomy and an ability to transfer his understanding of the weight and structure of the human figure to the canvas.
Issues of racism 
Tanner’s non-confrontational personality and preference for subtle expression in his work seem to belie his difficulties, but his life was not without struggle. Although he gained confidence as an artist and began to sell his work, racism was a major condition in Philadelphia, as massive numbers of African Americans left the rural South and settled in Northern urban centers. Although painting became a therapeutic source of release for him, lack of acceptance was painful. In his autobiography The Story of an Artist’s Life, Tanner describes the burden of racism:
I was extremely timid and to be made to feel that I was not wanted, although in a place where I had every right to be, even months afterwards caused me sometimes weeks of pain. Every time any one of these disagreeable incidents came into my mind, my heart sank, and I was anew tortured by the thought of what I had endured, almost as much as the incident itself.
In an attempt to gain artistic acceptance, Tanner left America for France in late 1891. Except for occasional brief returns home, he spent the rest of his life there.
Life abroad 
After an unsuccessful attempt at opening a photography studio in Atlanta and teaching drawing at Clark Atlanta University Tanner traveled to France in 1891, to the Académie Julian, and joined the American Art Students Club of Paris. Paris was a welcome escape for Tanner; within French art circles the issue of race mattered little. Tanner acclimated quickly to Parisian life.
In Paris, Tanner was introduced to many new artworks that would affect the way in which he painted. At the Louvre, Tanner encountered and studied the works of Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Chardin and Louis Le Nain. These artists had painted scenes of ordinary people in their environment and the effect in Tanner’s work is noticeable. One example is the striking similarity between Tanner’s “The Young Sabot Maker” (1895) and Courbet’s “The Stonebreakers” (1850). Both paintings explore the theme of apprenticeship and menial labor.
He studied under renowned artists such as Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. With their guidance Tanner began to make a name for himself and settled at the Etaples art colony in Normandy. Earlier on, Tanner painted marine scenes that showed man’s struggle with the sea, but by 1895 he was creating mostly religious works. A transitional work from this period is the recently rediscovered painting of a fishing boat tossed on the waves at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This is based on the description of a miracle in the Gospel of Matthew in which 'the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary' (14:24). The simple resources at Étaples were well adapted to his subject matter, which in several cases featured Biblical figures in dark interiors.
His painting entitled “Daniel in the Lions Den”, was accepted into the 1896 Salon. Later that year he painted “The Resurrection of Lazarus”. The critical praise for this piece solidified Tanner’s position in the artistic elite and heralded the future direction of his paintings, to mostly biblical themes. Upon seeing "The Resurrection of Lazarus", art critic Rodman Wanamaker offered to cover an all expenses-paid trip for Tanner to the Middle East. Wanamaker felt that any serious painter of biblical scenes needed to see this environment firsthand and that a painter of Tanner's caliber was well worth the investment. Tanner quickly accepted the offer. Before the next Salon opened, Tanner set forth for Palestine. Explorations of various mosques and biblical sites as well as character studies of the local population allowed Tanner to further his artistic training. His paintings developed a powerful air of mystique and spirituality. Tanner was not the first artist to study the Middle East in person. Since the 1830s, a growing interest in Orientalism had been growing in Europe. Artists such as Eugène Delacroix, David Roberts, and later Henri Matisse made such tours to capitalize on this curiosity.
The Banjo Lesson 
In 1893 on a short return visit to the United States, Tanner painted his most famous work, The Banjo Lesson, in Philadelphia. The painting shows an elderly black man teaching what is assumed to be his grandson how to play the banjo. This deceptively simple-looking work explores several important themes. Blacks had long been stereotyped as entertainers in American culture, and the image of a black man playing the banjo appears throughout American art of the late 19th century. Thomas Worth, Willy Miller, Walter M. Dunk, Eastman Johnson and Tanner’s own teacher Thomas Eakins had tackled the subject in their artwork. These images however are often reduced to a minstrel type portrayal. Tanner works against this familiar stereotype by producing a sensitive reinterpretation. Instead of a generalization the painting portrays a specific moment of human interaction. The two characters concentrate intently on the task before them. They seem to be oblivious to the rest of the world which magnifies the sense of real contact and cooperation. Skillfully painted portraits of the individuals make it obvious that these are real people and not types.
In addition to being a meaningful exploration of human qualities, the piece is masterfully painted. Tanner undertakes the difficult endeavor of two separate and varying light sources. A natural white, blue glow from outside enters from the left while the warm light from a fireplace is apparent on the right. The figures are illuminated where the two light sources meet; some have hypothesized this as a manifestation of Tanner’s situation in transition between two worlds, his American past and his newfound home in France.
Painting style 
Tanner is often regarded as a realist painter, focusing on accurate depictions of subjects. While his early works, such as "The Banjo Lesson" were concerned with everyday life as an African American, Tanner's later paintings focused mainly on the religious subjects for which he is now best known. It is likely that Tanner's father, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was a formative influence in this direction.
Tanner's body of work is not limited to one specific approach to painting. His works vary from meticulous attention to detail in some paintings to loose, expressive brushstrokes in others. Often both methods are employed simultaneously. The combination of these two techniques makes for a masterful balance of skillful precision and powerful expression. Tanner was also interested in the effects that color could have in a painting. Many of his paintings accentuate a specific area of the color spectrum. Warmer compositions such as "The Resurrection of Lazarus"(1896) and "The Annunciation"(1898) exude the intensity and fire of religious moments. They describe the elation of transcendence between the divine and humanity. Other paintings emphasize cooler, blue hues. Works such as "The Good Shepherd"(1903) and "Return of the Holy Women"(1904) evoke a feeling of somber religiosity and introspection. Tanner often experimented with the importance of light in a composition. The source and intensity of light and shadow in his paintings create a physical, almost tangible space and atmosphere while adding emotion and mood to the environment.
Later years 
During World War I, Tanner worked for the Red Cross Public Information Department, at which time he also painted images from the front lines of the war. In 1923 the French state made him a knight of the Legion of Honour for his work as an artist.
Several of Tanner's paintings were purchased by Atlanta art collector J. J. Haverty, who founded Haverty Furniture Co. and was instrumental in establishing the High Museum of Art. Tanner's "Etaples Fisher Folk" is among several paintings from the Haverty collection now in the High Museum's permanent collection.
Tanner died peacefully in Paris, France on May 25, 1937.
Tanner's work was influential during his career; he has been called "the greatest African American painter to date." The early paintings of William Edouard Scott, with whom Tanner studied in France, showcase the influence of Tanner’s technique. In addition, some of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations deal with the same themes and compositions that Tanner pursued. Rockwell's proposed cover of the Literary Digest in 1922 for example shows an older black man playing the banjo for his grandson. The light sources mirror Tanner's Banjo Lesson almost identically. A fireplace illuminates the right side of the picture while natural light enters from the left. Both use similar objects as well such as the clothing, chair, crumpled hat on the floor.
Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (c. 1885 oil on canvas) hangs in the Green Room at the White House; it is the first painting by an African-American artist to enter the permanent collection of the White House. The painting is a landscape with a "view across the cool gray of a shadowed beach to dunes made pink by the late afternoon sunlight. A low haze over the water partially hides the sun." It was acquired during the Clinton administration from Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, grandniece of the artist, by the White House Endowment Fund for $100,000.
Selected works 
- Seascape-Jetty (c.1876–1879)
- Pomp at the Zoo (1880) Private Collection
- Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1886) Estate of Sadie T.M. Alexander (On permanent display at White House)
- The Banjo Lesson (1893) Hampton University Museum, Virginia
- The Thankful Poor (1894) William H. and Camille O. Cosby
- The Young Sabot Maker (1895) Estate of Sadie T.M. Alexander
- Daniel in the Lions' Den (1895) Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- The Resurrection of Lazarus (1896) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
- Lions in the Desert (c.1897–1900) Smithsonian American Art Museum
- The Annunciation (1898) Philadelphia Museum of Art, W.P Wilstach Collection
- The Good Shepard (1903) Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University
- Return of the Holy Women (1904) Cedar Rapids Art Gallery, Iowa
- Two Disciples at the Tomb (1905–1906) Art Institute of Chicago
- The Holy Family (1909–1910) Muskegon Museum of Art, Michigan, Hackley Picture Fund
- Moroccan Scene (about 1912) Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
- Scene in Cairo Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, Shawnee, Oklahoma
- 1972. The Art of Henry Ossawa Tanner. Glen Falls, New York: The Hyde Collection.
- 1972. 19th Century American Landscape. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- 1976. Two Centuries of Black American Art. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
- 1989. Black Art Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art. Dallas Museum of Art.
- 1993. Revisiting the White City: American Art at the 1893 World's Fair
- 2010. Henry Ossawa Tanner and his Contemporaries. Des Moines Art Center (Dec.- Feb. 2011).
- 2012. Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia (Jan. - Apr) then travelling to Cincinnati Art Museum (May - Sept.) and to Houston Museum of Fine Arts (Oct. - Jan. 2013)
See also 
- "Henry Ossawa Tanner". Retrieved August 5, 2006.
- Marcia M. Mathews (1995). Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-51006-9.
- Finkelman, Paul, ed. (2006), Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895 (Encyclopedia) (New York: Oxford University Press) 3: 224
- Parry, Ellwood C. III. Three Nineteenth Century Afro-American Artists. Cedar Rapids, IA: Cedar Rapids Art Center, 1980.
- Matthews, Marcia.Henry Ossawa Tanner:American Artist. Chicago:The University of Chicago Press, 1969.
- Bruce, Marcus C. Henry Ossawa Tanner. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002.
- "Henry Ossawa Tanner". Archived from the original on January 10, 2006. Retrieved August 5, 2006.
- Shaw, Thomas M. What Manner of Men? A Reconsideration across the Synapses of Art History of Three Paintings and their Images of Men of African Descent.Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1997.
- Details on the museum site
- Negro Artist site
- Negro Artist site
- Woods, Naurice Frank, Jr., Ph.D. Insuperable Obstacles: The impact of the creative and personal development of four nineteenth century African American Artists. The Union Institute, 1993.
- "Henry Ossawa Tanner Online". Retrieved August 5, 2006.
- "Realism - Realism Art". Retrieved August 5, 2006.
- Kettlewell, James K. The Art of Henry Ossawa Tanner. Glen Falls, NY: The Hyde Collection, 1975.
- "Henry Ossawa Tanner". Retrieved August 9, 2006.
- Finkelman, Paul, ed. (2009), Encyclopedia of African American History (1896 to the present) (Encyclopedia) (New York: Oxford University Press) 2: 393
- Finkelman, Paul, ed. (2006), Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895 (Encyclopedia) (New York: Oxford University Press) 1: 101
- White House Acquires Tanner Painting http://clinton2.nara.gov/WH/EOP/First_Lady/html/102296.html
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Henry Ossawa Tanner|
- White House Biography
- Springfield Museum of Art Biography
- Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections Biography
- Muskegon Museum of Art
- Profile at PBS.org
- Moroccan Scene at the Birmingham Museum of Art
- University of California Press Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit (2012) the most complete scholarly publication to date produced in conjunction with PAFA, Tanner's Alma Mater, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
- Henry Ossawa Tanner Papers
- Alexander family papers relating to Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1912-1985
- Gallery of images and letters from the PAFA archives