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Indepth Arts News:

"Henry Ossawa Tanner and the Lure of Paris"
2005-12-07 until 2006-05-28
Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore, MD, USA

The Baltimore Museum of Art presents the first of two exhibitions on the work and influence of Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the most important African-American painters of the 20th century. Henry Ossawa Tanner and the Lure of Paris, on view December 7, 2005, through May 28, 2006, brings together works by Tanner—including major paintings on loan and works recently acquired by the Museum—with more than 40 paintings, prints, and drawings from the BMA’s renowned collection of 19th-century French art, including works by Camille Pissarro, Eugčne Delacroix, and Camille Baptiste Corot.

“This is an exciting opportunity to showcase these well-known paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner alongside works from the BMA’s outstanding collection,” said BMA Director Doreen Bolger.

Tanner spent most of his career as an expatriate in Paris, where he focused on Biblical and religious subjects, Orientalism, and the French landscape tradition. He visited Egypt and Palestine, where he was inspired to paint religious and Orientalist subjects that fused the exotic, the everyday, and the spiritual. He also spent time with artists in France’s Barbizon region, the center of the famous school of plein-air landscape painting, and later painted landscapes near the fishing village of Pont-Aven in Brittany. The exhibition features examples of these paintings and prints alongside works by French artists who likely influenced Tanner during his long and successful career.

In addition to the BMA’s Tanner masterpiece Portrait of Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1897)—a partial and promised gift presented to the Museum by Baltimore philanthropists Eddie and Sylvia Brown and their daughters in 2004—the BMA has added two other works by Tanner to the collection. The Museum has secured a loan of four paintings from the Des Moines Art Center for this exhibition series: The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water (c. 1907), Christ Learning to Read (c. 1911), Near East Scene (c. 1910), and Le Tonquet (c. 1910), and a loan of The Good Shepherd from Morgan State University’s James E. Lewis Museum of Art.

The second exhibition in this series, on view June 7–December 3, 2006, features the Des Moines Art Center paintings along with works by 20th-century African-American artists in the BMA's collection, among them Hale Woodruff, Horace Pippin, and Jacob Lawrence.

This exhibition is guest curated by Dr. James Smalls, Associate Professor of Art History and Theory at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He teaches art and visual culture of the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and America and has written extensively on modern and contemporary black visual culture.

The exhibition is generously supported by grants from the Museum Loan Network and the Henry Luce Foundation.


Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was the country’s most celebrated African-American artist at the turn of the 20th century. He was born in Pittsburgh to Sarah Tanner, a former slave who had escaped on the Underground Railroad, and Reverend Benjamin Tucker Tanner, one of the most renowned intellectual figures in the African-American community in the 19th century. The family had important ties to Maryland where Bishop Tanner was principal of the A.M.E. Conference School for Freedman in Frederick and pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore. The family later moved to Philadelphia, where Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and became the pupil of progressive American artist Thomas Eakins.

Tanner traveled to Paris is 1892 and studied under the French academic painters Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian. He exhibited at the annual Salons and won prizes and recognition for his work. He traveled extensively in Egypt, Palestine, and Italy in 1896 and soon began producing the religious genre and Orientalist subjects for which he is best known. In the last two decades of his life, he achieved international recognition and the admiration of his peers. He achieved one of his greatest distinctions in 1923 when the French government named him chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He died in Paris in 1937.

  Henry Ossawa Tanner
The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water. c. 1907.
Des Moines Art Center.

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