- NAME: Henry Ossawa Tanner
- OCCUPATION: Painter
- BIRTH DATE: June 21, 1859
- DEATH DATE: May 25, 1937
- EDUCATION: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Academie Julian, Robert Vaux School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
- Full Name: Henry Ossawa Tanner
- AKA: Henry Tanner
Best Known For
Henry Ossawa Tanner was an American painter who frequently depicted biblical scenes and is best known for the paintings "Nicodemus Visiting Jesus," "The Banjo Lesson" and "The Thankful Poor." He was the first African-American painter to gain international fame.
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Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1869. As a young man, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1891, Tanner moved to Paris, and after several exhibits, gained international acclaim—becoming the first African-American painter to receive such attention. "Nicodemus Visiting Jesus" is one of his most famous works. He's also known for the paintings "The Banjo Lesson" and "The Thankful Poor." Tanner died in 1937 in Paris, France.
"I will preach with my brush."
A pioneering African-America artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner was born on June 21, 1859, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The oldest of nine children, Tanner was the son of an Episcopal minister and a schoolteacher.
When he was just a few years old, Tanner moved with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he would spend most of his childhood. Tanner was the beneficiary of two education-minded parents; his father, Benjamin Tanner, had earned a college degree and become a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church. In Philadelphia, Tanner attended the Robert Vaux School, an all-black institution and of only a few African-American schools to offer a liberal arts curriculum.
Despite his father's initial objections, Tanner fell in love with the arts. He was 13 when he decided he wanted to become a painter, and throughout his teens, he painted and drew as much as he could. His attention to the creative side was furthered by his poor health: After falling significantly ill as a result of a taxing apprenticeship at a flourmill, the weak Tanner recuperated by staying home and painting.
Finally, in 1880, a healthy Tanner resumed a regular life and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There, he studied under Thomas Eakins, an influential teacher who had a profound impact on Tanner's life and work.
Tanner ended up leaving the school early, however, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he would teach art and run his own gallery for the next two years.
In 1891, Tanner's life took a dramatic turn with a visit to Europe. In Paris, France, in particular, Tanner discovered a culture that seemed to be light years ahead of America in race relations. Free from the prejudicial confines that defined his life in his native country, Tanner made Paris his home, living out the rest of his life there.
Tanner's greatest early work depicted tender African-American scenes. Undoubtedly his most famous painting, "The Banjo Lesson," which features an older gentleman teaching a young boy how to play the banjo, was created while visiting his family in Philadelphia in 1893. The following year, he produced another masterpiece: "The Thankful Poor."
By the mid-1890s, Tanner was a success, critically admired both in the United States and Europe. In 1899, he created one of his most famous works, "Nicodemus Visiting Jesus," an oil painting on canvas depicting the biblical figure Nicodemus's meeting with Jesus Christ. For the work, he won the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' Lippincott Prize in 1900.
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