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Information on the Artist Henry Ossawa Tanner

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Henry Ossawa Tanner Booklet

Art History Honors

Ashley Hensley

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born on June 21, 1859, in Pittsburg Pennsylvania. He was the eldest sibling of seven children. His father (Benjamin Tucker Tanner) was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother (Sarah Tanner) was born into slavery and escaped to the North through the Underground Railroad. The family moved to Philadelphia when Tanner was young, where his father became friends with Frederick Douglass. Tanner attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia being the only black student. During Tanner's choice to enroll in the academy, artistic institutional training was becoming more popular. Thomas Eakins was a professor at the academy and introduced new methods in understanding the human body and studying live models. These progressive views in art highly affected Tanner's artistic life. While Tanner attended the academy, he befriended artists that he kept in contact with throughout his life. Later, tanner departed from school and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he taught art. Tanner eventually visited Paris in 1891 and discovered how much he admired the culture, therefore making it his forever home. After several exhibits, he gained international acclaim and became the first African-American painter to receive that much attention.

The Early Life of 

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner is often regarded as a realist painter, focusing his works on accurate paintings of people. This artistic style is mostly influenced by Tanner's previous teacher, Thomas Eakins, who focused on live subjects and the human body. Tanner's painting "The Banjo Lesson" depicted the everyday life of an African American. Later on, Tanner focused his works more on religious subjects, shown in his painting "The Annunciation". His father who was a bishop more than likely influenced Tanner's interest in religious subjects. Tanner's work is not limited to one specific method, his art ranges anywhere from extremely detailed to loose brushstrokes. With the balance of the two, it portrays his precision along with how powerful he expresses himself in the paintings. The painting "The Annunciation" expresses the intensity and outburst of religious moments whereas the painting "The Good Shepherd" is much cooler and contains blue hues. Tanner's works impacted the lives of those who were impacted by racism. Many African-Americans began to embrace their heritage along with embracing eurocentric modern art. 

Style

Henry Ossawa Tanner's Most Popular Works

The Thankful Poor (1894)

The Banjo Lesson (1893)

"The Banjo Lesson" was created after some sketches that Tanner created while visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1889. Tanner was visiting the mountains because he developed typhoid fever and was advised to get some mountain air. During this trip, Tanner realized the poverty of African-Americans living in the Appalachia. This painting was formed out of a set of photographs and illustrations that Tanner made for the periodical Harper's Young People. The medium that was used is oil paint and the main subject of the painting is the banjo. The painting depicts an elderly man teaching a boy how to play the banjo. This painting is now located at the Hampton University Museum.

"The Thankful Poor" portrays a grandfather and a grandson giving thanks and praying before a meal. The main objects in this painting are mainly the people. This is shown through the detail and precision that the people are painted with. Tanner uses warm and expressive light to tie in the spiritual quality which is also shown in the actions of the subjects. The surrounding light among the two people shows their devotion and thankfulness to the higher power they believe in. The medium that was used is oil paint and the location of the painting is in a private collection.

The Two Disciples at the Tomb (1906)

The Young Sabot Maker (1895)

"The Two Disciples at the Tomb" portrays the discovery of Christ's empty tomb on Easter. This painting became one of Tanner's most notorious paintings in America that gave him the recognition that made him famous. One disciple, Peter, looks down with a solemn gaze, however, John is transfixed. Like many of Tanner's paintings, the subjects are reacting to an incredible event. This painting was created using oil paint and is now located at the Art Institue of Chicago Building.

When Tanner moved to France in 1891, he spent a couple of summers in Pont-Aven and Concarneau where sabots were common. This painting depicts a young apprentice learning the trade from his teacher. In the final painting, the young man is African-American and not French, therefore portraying Tanner's heritage. This piece of art was Tanner's second painting to be accepted by the annual Paris exhibition, which showed official recognition from the French art establishment. The painting was purchased by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885)

Lions in the Desert (1900)

"Lions in the Desert" was inspired by Tanner's visit to the Middle East. This painting is different from the artist's usual subjects including people and religious paintings. Additionally, this painting has warm tones along with blue hues, creating a calming effect. The main object in this painting is the lion, having a detailed face but everything else is more loose, including the lion's body. This painting was created using oil on canvas and is now located in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C.

"Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City" was added to the White House art collection in 1996. This painting was celebrated then because it was the first painting to be permanently added to the collection that was created by an African-American. The artwork was appreciated for its excellence and the artist's character. This painting is unique because he mixed sand into his pigments to emulate the texture. In this painting, the artist captures the waves and dunes having a bent motion which they are almost in a permanent shape. This painting depicts warmer tones and precision in the grass and how every piece of nature in this artwork is in sync with the wind. 

I like this painting because it ties together Tanner's beliefs and heritage. The painting depicts an elderly man and his grandson giving thanks before a mean. The two people are the focal point for the painting and the surrounding light portrays the power of belief. The colors that dominate most of the picture are the lighter colors surrounding the people. This exemplifies realism because it is focused on realistic people during this time period. The aspects that appeal to me most are how despite the age gap, both the young man and the grandfather are respectful and serious when it comes to thanking the higher power they believe in. This painting moves me because it portrays the power of belief and hopefulness through dark times where a meal is hard to come by. 

Personal Favorites

I like this painting because it really focuses on Tanner's heritage and how his family lived in his early life. This painting depicts an older man teaching the younger boy how to play the banjo. The colors that dominate are brown hues. The main focal point is the banjo and how it is bringing two generations together. This painting exemplifies realism through showing how little that African-Americans had in these hard times, however, it also shows the power of having one another. The aspects that appeal to me are how the young boy is comforted in his grandfather's lap and how the grandfather is not only a caregiver but a teacher. This painting moves me because even though this family depicted does not have much, the grandfather can pass down his talents and wisdom.

Booklet Project

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Art History Honors

Ashley Hensley 


My name is Ashley Hensley. I made this booklet as a source of information providing facts about the legendary artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. This booklet contains information on Tanner's early life, inspirations, education, style, paintings, and influence. Please feel free to browse through this booklet and learn how this legend used his history to create art and change the art world for African-Americans. 

Introduction

Claude Monet was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris, France. Monet's father (Adolphe) worked in the family shipping business. Monet's mother (Louise) took care of the family, however, she did love poetry. When Monet was 5 his family moved to Le Havre, where he went to school. Monet was a decent student, however, he would have rather been outside instead of crammed into a classroom. At a very young age, he took up the interest in drawing and filled his books up with sketches of people, including his teachers. His mother was a fan of Monet's artistic abilities, whereas his father encouraged him to go into the family business. His mother passed away some short years later and Monet suffered gravely. Monet locally became known for his caricatures of the townspeople. After meeting Eugene Boudin, who was a local landscape artist, Monet used nature in his works. Monet moved to Paris in 1859 to pursue his dream of being an artist. From 1861 to 1862 Monet served in the military but was discharged for health issues. When he returned to Paris he partnered with Charles Gleyre. During this journey, Monet met many other artists such as Auguste Renoir. Monet won acceptance to the Salon of 1865 which was an annual juried art show in Paris. Though he received some praise, he struggled financially. Monet participated in the Salon the following year and entered a portrait of his lover Camille. She was often his muse in many of his painting. After the hardship of attempting to conceive their son and along with struggling financially, he tried to commit suicide in the Seine River. After the war, in 1872, Monet settled in Argenteuil where he developed his own technique. He banded together with several other artists and exhibited their works together.

Summary of Monet's Life

Monet's style was impressionistic. His works contained mostly all about nature and tried to capture nature as the moment he saw it. Many of his paintings have experimented with light and shadow and how they change throughout the day. This style was mostly criticized in the beginning because his paintings lacked detail. Monet used strong colors and did not mix any of them. He used short brush strokes onto a canvas. Monet's brush strokes are a key feature in his works. He relied on flat brush strokes that can be seen in full effect. In Monet's early works, his adoration of natural light is depicted. He often used darkened backgrounds with low lighting illuminating parts of the painting. Monet's palette is linked to the use of light. He often used darker colors to highlight his use of brighter colors. His colors were unmediated and used light colors as his base for painting, compared to dark primers which were more traditional.  

Monet's Style

Bain a la Grenouillere (1869)

Oil Paint

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Poppies (1873)

Oil Paint on Canvas

Musee d'Orsay

Monet's Masterpieces

Impression, Sunrise (1872)

Oil Paint

Musee Marmottan Monet

Bathers at La Grenouillere (1869)

Oil on Canvas

National Portrait Gallery

Garden at Sainte-Adresse (1867)

Oil on Canvas

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Madame Monet and Her Son (1875)

Oil on Canvas

National Gallery of Art East Building


The Magpie (1869)

Oil on Canvas

Musee d'Orsay

Women in the Garden (1866)

Oil on Canvas

Musee d'Orsay

Monet's Masterpieces

La gare Saint-Lazare (1877)

Oil Paint

Musee d'Orsay

The Japanese Footbridge (1920-1922)

Oil Paint

National Gallery of Art