Today’s post comes from Emily MacLeod, Class of 2012 and Art Center Student Docent.
Occasionally the Art Center has the privilege of lending out works from our permanent collection to traveling exhibitions that can be seen across the country. Though we might miss seeing a given artwork on our wall everyday, knowing that we are sharing it with an audience that could not easily come to our galleries makes its return all the sweeter, like welcoming an old friend home from a long trip.
Such a work is Henry Ossawa Tanner’s A View of Palestine. Currently off our wall, Tanner’s landscape of the Holy Land can be found through April 15 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as part of Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, an exciting exhibition that will move to Cincinnati in May and Houston in October.
Philadelphia is a fitting place to start this celebration of Tanner’s life and work. Born in Pittsburgh in 1859, Tanner grew up in Philadelphia and from 1879–1885 attended the Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied with famed realist Thomas Eakins. With his move to France six years later, he became a member of the thriving expatriate community of artists in Paris—a place more accepting of African-American artists than Tanner had found in the United States. His work moved between realism (influenced by Courbet and Chardin) and a freer style, using loose and expressive brushstrokes and experiments with color and light.
His most famous painting, The Banjo Lesson, was not done in Paris but rather was completed on a short return to the States in 1893. The subject reflected a common theme in his paintings, ordinary people in their own environment, in this case an older African-American man teaching a child how to play the banjo. Picking up on the image of the black entertainer or minstrel, Tanner creates not a stereotypical scene but one of real human emotion and experience.
The most recognizable theme in Tanner’s oeuvre is his Christianity. His painting The Resurrection of Lazarus, which received a medal at the Paris Salon in 1896, is being shown outside of France for the first time in this exhibition. Our contribution to the exhibition, A View of Palestine, is a product of Tanner’s visit to the Middle East sponsored by art critic Rodman Wanamaker, who acknowledged Tanner’s talent but believed that any painter of biblical scenes should see the landscape firsthand.
For more information about Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, check out the PAFA website here with featured information about their special programming and extensive information about this important and seldom studied artist.