Tuesday, December 18, 2007


TANNER, HENRY O. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859, Henry Ossawa Tanner was an especially gifted African American artist during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Despite the objections of his parents, who wanted him to train for the ministry, Tanner decided early in life to pursue an artistic career. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, studying under the famous painter Thomas Eakins, be­tween 1884-88. Following the completion of his studies, Tanner traveled to Atlanta, where he taught drawing at Clark College, supplementing his salary by opening a photographic studio. Although neither position proved to be financially lucrative and notwithstanding the fact that Tanner was only able to sell a few of his paintings (including his now famous "The Banjo Lesson") during this period, he was able to save enough to leave the United States for further study in Paris in 1891.

During the 1890's, Tanner studied under Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens at the Academie Julian in Paris. It was during this period that he abandoned his earlier preoccupa­tion with landscapes and "Negro themes," turning instead to Biblical paintings, the basis of his subsequent fame. In 1896, his oil painting of "Daniel in the Lion's Den" won an honor­able mention in the Paris Salon, while his best known work, "The Resurrection of Lazarus," won the third place medal at the Salon a year later. "Resurrection" was subsequently pur­chased by the French government to hang in the Luxembourg Gallery Collection, an exceptional and much coveted mark of distinction among contemporary artists.

Winning such prizes and honors as silver medals at the Paris Exposition (1900) and St. Louis Exposition (1904), a gold medal at the San Francisco Exposition (1915), and the French Legion of Honor, Tanner's subsequent works include "Judas" (1899), "Two Disciples at the Tomb" (1906), "The Three Marys" (1912) and "The Wailing Wall" (1915). He lived in France until the end, dying at his country home in Normandy in 1937.

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