African Americans in Art… Henry Ossawa Tanner


Born in 1859, he was the first African American painter to achieve nationwide recognition within the art world. He was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in a highly religious family. His father a preacher moved the family to Philadelphia and there Tanner studied with the great painter Thomas Eakins.

After working as an illustrator for a few years he went to France. He saw the advancement of careers happen with the blessings of one painting. The painting that did this for him was the Banjo Lesson made in 1894. He specialized for some time in animal portraits, then landscapes, and finally religious scenes.

In 1899 he married a white woman from the California. Deciding that his marriage wouldn’t be accepted by the culture in the United States the couple made Paris their home. He lived until 1937. He thought of Paris as his natural home simply for the way the arts and creativity where encouraged regardless of race or creed.


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