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The life and work of the American Realist, Henry Oswana Tanner.

Henry Ossawa Tanner

By: Kensley Harris

Art History Honors

In this booklet, I will relay the life and many works of Henry Ossawa Tanner! I am presenting this project in order to earn a high grade in this class. In this booklet, you will learn of the childhood of Tanner, the type of schooling he endured, and the many influences he still has to this day on many artist! I chose to do my booklet on Tanner because he is very influential and values life and everyone around him. I hope you enjoy and learn something new!

Nicodemus Visting Jesus. 1899. Henry Tanner.

Abrahams Oak. 1905. Henry Tanner.

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born on June 21, 1859 in Pittsburg, PA. At a young age his family moved to Philadelphia. In Phildelphia, Tanner became very attracted towards art and all that it had to offer. As a teenager, he became very sick and used the time at home to work on his paintings and becoming a better artist. When he was old enough to start working, he obtained a job in a flour mill, and quickly realized that he wanted to become an artist full time. However, he came from a devoted Christian family -  his dad was a bishop and his mom was a teacher - and they discouraged him from following this dream. Tanner perservered though and attened the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. Although he did not complete his schooling, he moved to Atlanta, GA and opened up his own art gallery and began teaching. With much success, he visited Paris and was fascinated by the works he observed. He decided to move there in 1891. During this time, he began to gain international attention. Much of his artowrk throughout his life stemmed from his upbringing and the Bible. He commonly drew and painted scenes from the Bible. He also created many works of art depicting his race and the pride he had. He married Jessie Macualey Olssen, a musicain that studied voice. The couple had one child together, a son named Jesse. 

Henry Tanner's Life

Spinning by Firelight. 1894. Henry Tanner.

Henry Ossawa Tanner mainly used oil on a canvas or oil on paper to display his many works of art during the age of Impressionism. Impression occured in the 19th century and consisted of bright colors in art that you would observe if you caught a quick glimpse of something as you were walking by or seeing only for a moment. Tanner's work fits perfectly into the Impressionism period because his works focused on glimpses of light and evoked a feeling from its viewers. For example, in the Thankful Poor, light is emphasized on the light shining through the window onto the table. By doing this, Tanner shows that there is still light in the dark days for everyone, including the poor. Henry Tanner often painted scenes showing how life could be rough in order to prove that life is not always grand. He wanted people to see how life was in reality. He often painted pictures of his mother to show what life was like for him while growing up. His childhood heavily influenced his work throughout his life, along with the Bible. Tanner was influenced by his professors while atteneding the Philadeplia Academy of Fine Arts. Thomas Eakins, Jean-Paul Laurens, and Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant, his professors, encouraged him to never back down from his dreams. He followed in their footsteps to become one of the most influentail African American artist to ever live!

Henry Tanner's Style

Famous Paintings by Henry Tanner

To the right: The Thankful Poor, 1894, oil on canvas. 

The the left: The Resurrection of Lazarus, 1896, oil on canvas.

To the right: Nicodemus Visiting Jesus, 1899, oil on canvas.

To the left: The Banjo Lesson, 1893, oil on canvas.

To the left: The Bagpipe Lesson, 1893, oil on a canvas.

To the right: Daniel in the Lions Den, 1917, oil on paper.

Abrahams Oak. 1905. Henry Tanner.

Praying With Grandpa. 1894. Henry Tanner.

My Favorite Paintings

My most favorite painting by Henry Tanner is Praying With Grandpa. In this painting we see a small child praying with his grandpa over dinner. Attention is drawn to the table and window by bright tan colors. We see how thankful they are to have a meal and be sharing it with each other. I enjoy this painting because it reminds me of the times I sat at the dinner table with my grandpa praying and talking about life before he passed. I enjoy the simplicity of this painting and how is shows the love between a grandfather and grandchild.

My second favorite painting by Tanner is Abrahams Oak. In the work of art, attention is drawn to the moon far into the distance and the massive tree close to the viewer. I feel as if this painting is trying to get its viewers to see that there is light, even in dark times. If you follow the light, you will reach your destination and dreams! Always venture towards the light, because thats where everything is calm. The people in this painting may have been facing hard times, and they are traveling to where everything will finally be ok again. This work of art inspires and gives hope!

 "Henry Ossawa Tanner, Praying With Grandpa, 1894, Oil on a Canvas." Pictify. Web. 26 March 2017.


"Henry Ossawa Tanner." A&E Networks Televison, 04 May 2016. Web. 27 March 2017.


Gersh-Nesic, Beth. "Artists in 60 Seconds: Henry Ossawa Tanner." ThoughtCo. Web. 26 March 2017.


The Editors of Encyclopedia Brittanica. "Henry Ossawa Tanner." Encyclopedia Brittanica. 14 Dec. 2010. Web. 27 March 2017.