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African American Artist of 19th Century - Henry Ossawa Tanner

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Henry Ossawa Tanner (June 21, 1859 - May 25, 1937) was the most famous African-American artist of the nineteenth century. Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania his father was a college-educated teacher and Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church. His mother Sarah Tanner was a former slave who came to Pittsburgh through the Underground Railroad. Henry Tanner decided at the early age of thirteen he wanted to be an artist. He loved to watch the artist at Fairmount Park near his home. At the age of twenty-one Tanner showed great signs of talent but he lacked direction. In 1880 he enrolled in the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts he studied under master professors along with Thomas Eakins who had a big influence on Tanner's style. From there Tanner went on to Paris and enrolled in the Academie Julian where the painter Jean Paul Laurens and Jean Joseph Benjamin-Constant were his teachers. I was not long after Tanner painted one of his most important works, The Banjo Lesson.

The Banjo Lesson was painted in 1893 it is one of Tanner's most famous painting today. It is a portrait of an African-American elderly man teaching a young boy how to play the banjo. This oil painting is truly beautiful it has a humbling affect on you. The older gentleman and the boy are placed in the center of the canvas. They are the focal point of the picture; the light coming from the right side of the picture I assume is from a fireplace. This light shines directly on them drawing your attention towards the center. There's no doubt that the man and boy are the most important factors in the picture. I noticed that Tanner used a lot of earth tone colors to paint the floor boards, the chairs and the man's shoes and pants. This leads me to believe that Tanner used a limited amount of colors on his palette. Although, by using limited colors this

shows what the short comings of African -Americans in the lifetime of Henry Ossawa Tanner was like. If you look around the painting there are limited props. In the background there is an old table covered with a white cloth and a few dishes are sitting on top with a loaf of bread. This gives me the impression that the family did not have a lot but every little bit counts.

This painting represents the love of family even while being in impoverished environment. It also captures the bond between what I assume is the grandfather and his grandson. When I look at this painting the emotion I feel is a strong since of family companionship. It is obvious the love and affection that is being shared by the grandfather and grandson. This painting gives me the since of patience. The grandfather is passing along knowledge from one generation to the next. I just adore this painting I would love to visit Hampton University Museum in Hampton, Virginia to see this painting in its entirety.

Henry Ossawa Tanner went



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