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By Frederick Gutekunst -, Public Domain, Link

Achieving international reputation through the depiction of landscapes and biblical themes, the American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner, was acclaimed as the foremost African-American painter of the early 20th century.

Famous as the first African-American painter to gain global recognition, Tanner was born on June 21, 1859, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Belonging to a religious family, he developed an interest towards art when he was a teenager. In 1880, Tanner began two years of formal study under Thomas Eakins at Pennsylvania University of Fine Arts, where he was the only African-American.

In 1888, Tanner moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he would teach art and run his own gallery for next two years. In 1891, his life turned a dramatic turn with a visit to Europe. He was fascinated by France's artistic world and decided to stay in Paris for the rest of his life.

In Paris, Tanner enrolled at the Académié Julian. During this period, he lightened his palette, favoring blues and blue-greens, and began to manipulate light and shadow for a dramatic and inspirational effect. In 1983, he returned to the United States to deliver a paper on African Americans and art at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

By 1894, Tanner's paintings were being exhibited at the annual Paris Salon, at which in 1896 he was awarded an honorable mention for “Daniel in the Lions' Den”. In 1897, he won a medal at the Paris Salon for his painting “The Rising of Lazarus”. It was a rare achievement for an African-American artist at that time. Later that year the French government purchased the painting.

After touring the Holy Land in 1897-98, Tanner painted “Nichodemus Visiting Jesus”, which in 1900 won PAFA's Lippincott Prize. He remained an expatriate in France, routinely exhibiting in Paris as well as the United States, and winning several awards. Among his other works are “The Banjo Lesson” (1894), “The Annunciation” (1898), “Abraham’s Oak” (1905), and “The Two Disciples at the Tomb” (1905).

Throughout much the rest of his life, even as he shifted his focus to religious scenes, Tanner continued to receive praise and honors for his work, including being named honorary Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor, France's most distinguish award, in 1923. Four years later, he was made a full academician of the National Academy of Design, becoming the first African-American to ever receive the distinction.

Henry Ossawa Tanner died at his Paris home on May 25, 1937.




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