Magazine article Ebony

A Celebration of Henry Ossawa Tanner

Magazine article Ebony

A Celebration of Henry Ossawa Tanner

Article excerpt


THANKS in part to the Black Renaissance of the '60s and '70s and the Black art resurgence of the '80s, there has been a major revival of interest in Henry Ossawa Tanner, the first African-American artist to win international recognition.

Fifty-four years after his death, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has mounted the first major retrospective on the work of the artist who fled American racism in 1891 and spent most of his adult life in Paris.

Most celebrated for his portrayal of Biblical subjects - particularly in works like The Annunciation, which is symbolic of African-American emancipation - Tanner was also known for his early portrayal of Black life in paintings like The Banjo Lesson. But whether painting a Biblical scene or a landscape, he was a master in the use of color, light and shade. He also was one of a handful of American artists whose efforts established American art as an independent force with its own non-European identity.

The Philadelphia retrospective, which has attracted wide media attention, features some 90 paintings, including the masterpieces on the following pages. The exhibition will travel later this year to major museums in Detroit, Atlanta and San Francisco.

The largest private contributors to the exhibition were Merton Simpson, a Tanner fan and New York gallery owner, and the estate of Tanner's niece, Sadie T.M. Alexander. The exhibition does not feature one of the artist's most celebrated works, The Thankful Poor, which brought the highest price for a Tanner - a reported $250,000 - when it was bought by William and Camille Cosby. …

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