Happy Birthday, Henry Ossawa Tanner!

0 Posted by - December 12, 2017 - BLACK ART, BLACK MEN


Artist Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim. In 1891, he moved to Paris to study and ultimately decided to stay there, being readily accepted in French artistic circles. His painting entitled Daniel in the Lions Den was accepted into the 1896 Salon.

After teaching himself some artistic techniques, he had enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1879. He was the only black student and became a favorite of the painter Thomas Eakins, who had recently started teaching there. He also made other connections among artists, including Robert Henri.

In the late 1890s, he was sponsored for a trip to Palestine by Rodman Wanamaker, who was impressed by his paintings of Biblical themes.

Painting Style:
Tanner is often regarded as a realist painter, focusing on accurate depictions of subjects. While works such as The Banjo Lesson were concerned with everyday life as an African American, Tanner later painted themes based on 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 for him.

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. Both methods were often 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), express the intensity and fire of religious moments, and 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.

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