Posts Tagged 'Henry Ossawa Tanner'

Celebrating Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1907 by Frederick Gutekunst (1831–1917)

This month the DMA celebrates the acclaimed African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937). Tanner’s intimate painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures is one of the cornerstones of our American collection. He rendered the lush, densely painted surface using a restricted palette predominated by shades of cool, luminous blue. The color became so synonymous with him that it earned the nickname “Tanner-blue.”

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, 1908, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds, 1986.9

The artist’s wife, Jessie Olssen, an American opera singer living in Paris when they met, and their young son, Jesse, often served as his models. Two existing photographs (figs. 1 & 2) confirm they posed for him as he considered different arrangements for the DMA’s painting, and one (fig. 1) was the template. That they posed for this painting makes it simultaneously a meditative religious scene and a tender family portrait.

Fig. 1: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12359, public domain
Fig. 2: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12360, public domain

Tanner seems to have been so enamored with the composition that three years later he rendered a similar version, Christ Learning to Read. He made slight changes to the poses of Christ and Mary and experimented with an impressionistic application of a high-keyed pastel color palette to render light. Further, the painting’s structural frame and inner arcing spandrel reflect the influence of buildings he most likely saw during his many trips to Morocco.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ Learning to Read, about 1911, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts, 1941.16, photo credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

Tanner’s decision to be a religious painter was deeply rooted in his family background. His father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835–1923), was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the artist’s childhood home was a well-known salon of Black culture in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that his path to a successful career was filled with many obstacles. While he found studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins intellectually fulfilling, the extreme racism he experienced from classmates was intolerable. Acknowledging that he “could not fight prejudice and paint at the same time,” Tanner left Philadelphia, briefly set up a photography studio in Georgia, and eventually lived out his life in Paris as an American expatriate. The city was culturally, socially, and artistically welcoming, while also providing him with the freedom and camaraderie unavailable to him in his segregated homeland. In Paris, the shy, serious-minded artist flourished and prospered. After a trip to Palestine, Tanner turned his focus toward painting biblical scenes and rarely strayed from this theme for the rest of his life.

Both the Dallas and Des Moines paintings, along with the two photographs discussed here, are emblematic of Tanner’s devotion to his faith and career, and all of them serve as affectionate double portraits in tribute to his wife and son. The Dallas Museum of Art is proud to display Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, which is a masterpiece by this admired and accomplished American artist, in our galleries. We are always honored to celebrate Tanner’s life, legacy, and contribution to the canon of American art, and we are most especially pleased to do so during Black History Month.

Martha MacLeod is the Senior Curatorial Administrator and Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts and Design, Latin American Art, and American Art at the DMA.

Dad’s Day at the DMA

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, c. 1909, oil on canvasm Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds 1986.9

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, c. 1909, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds, 1986.9

In honor of Fathers’ Day, we are showcasing artist Henry Ossawa Tanner’s tender rendering of his wife and son, whom he used as models for Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures. In addition to this painting in the DMA’s collection, another, later version is in the Des Moines Art Center. The two were based on inscribed photographs taken by Tanner of his Swedish-born wife, Jessie, and their son, Jesse; the photographs are now housed in the Tanner Papers collection at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

(Image: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting of Christ and his mother studying the scriptures, not after 1910. aaa.si.edu/)

Tanner painted a portrait of his own father, African Methodist Episcopal bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1897), now in the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Tanner family lived primarily in France, where the artist had settled in the 19th century to escape racial discrimination in America. The artist’s last years were devoted to the care and recovery of his only son, who had a nervous breakdown following his graduation from Cambridge. Jesse Tanner went on to become a successful petroleum engineer, and in the 1950s he wrote a manuscript, The Life and Works of Henry O. Tanner, dedicated to his father.

Visit Tanner’s painting, on view in the DMA’s Level 4 galleries and included in free general admission, this weekend to celebrate the dad in your life.

Reagan Duplisea is the Associate Registrar at the DMA.

What’s in a (middle) name?

In honor of Middle Name Pride Day, we took some time to explore artists in the DMA collection whose middle names were part of their identity and the stories behind them.

John Singleton Copley, Woodbury Langdon and Sarah Sherburne Langdon, 1767, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

John Singleton Copley, Woodbury Langdon and Sarah Sherburne Langdon, 1767, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Following a long tradition that continues today, many artists’ middle names can be attributed to familial ties. John Singleton Copley’s middle name can be credited to his mother’s maiden name. She was from the County Clare, Ireland, but could trace her ancestors back to Lancashire, England. She was forced to take over her husband’s tobacco shop upon his death shortly after the family emigrated in the early 1700s.

John Wesley Jarvis, Portrait of a Man, c. 1815-1820, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Mrs. Sheridan Thompson

John Wesley Jarvis, Portrait of a Man, c. 1815-1820, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Mrs. Sheridan Thompson

John Wesley Jarvis was named for his uncle John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church. Jarvis was born in his uncle’s homeland of England, but his mariner father moved the family to Philadelphia in the artist’s early years. He eventually became one of the most renowned portrait painters in New York in the early 1800s but strayed from his namesake’s roots with his propensity for flamboyant fashion and alcohol.

Velma Davis Dozier, Rain Forest (pin), 1969, cast gold, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Otis and Velma Dozier

Velma Davis Dozier, Rain Forest (pin), 1969, cast gold, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Otis and Velma Dozier

Also following a tradition that continues today, several female artists in the DMA collection assumed their maiden name as their middle name after their marriages. Velma Davis was a Texas native who studies painting at SMU and then specialized in jewelry making and design while obtaining her master’s degree from Columbia University. She returned to Texas to cofound the Dallas School of Creative Arts in the 1930s, where she met her husband, painting teacher Otis Dozier.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Portrait of a Man in a Blue Suit, 1760s, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Leon A. Harris, Jr.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Portrait of a Man in a Blue Suit, 1760s, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Leon A. Harris, Jr.

Children in Italian families have long been named for saints for whom the parents have a special affinity, as was likely the case with Pompeo Girolamo (“Jerome”) Batoni. The artist clearly also held St. Jerome in high regard, having depicted him at least in three separate works: St. Jerome in the Wilderness, The Last Communion of St. Jerome, and in one of his most famous later paintings, The Marriage of St. Catherine with Sts. Jerome and Lucy. (It is worth noting that Catherine was the name of his first wife; Lucy, the name of his second.)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, c. 1909, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, c. 1909, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s parents escaped a life of slavery via the Underground Railroad. Benjamin Tucker Tanner, who became an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and his wife Sarah, bestowed the middle name of “Ossawa” upon their son, after Osawatomie – the Kansas town where the infamous abolitionist John Brown launched his anti-slavery campaign.

Norman Bel Geddes and Walter Kidde Sales Co., "Soda King" syphon bottle, designed c. 1935, plastic and chrome, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley

Norman Bel Geddes and Walter Kidde Sales Co., “Soda King” syphon bottle, designed c. 1935, plastic and chrome, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley

American theatre and industrial designer Norman Melancton Geddes adopted the “Bel” middle name after marrying his wife, Helen Belle Schneider in 1916. The couple also passed on their incorporated name to their daughter, actress Barbara Bel Geddes.

Other artists who took pride in their middle name currently on view in the DMA galleries:
John White Alexander
Thomas Hart Benton
Abraham Hendricksz van Beyeren
Richard Parkes Bonington
Alfred Thompson Bricher
Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Frederic Edwin Church
Francis William Edmonds
Laurits Christian Eichner
Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguière
Francesco Salvator Fontebasso
Jesús Guerrero Galván
Charles Sumner Greene
Henry Mather Greene
Charles Webster Hawthorne
René Jules Lalique
John Hugh Le Sage
Pierre Nicolas Legrand
Guillaume Guillon Lethiere
Alfred Henry Maurer
Alfred Jacob Miller
John Nicholas Otar
Charles Willson Peale
Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre
Giulio Cesare Procaccini
William Tylee Ranney
John Gordon Rideout
Leon Polk Smith
Walter Dorwin Teague
Louis Comfort Tiffany
Jean François de Troy
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Karl Emmanuel Martin (Kem) Weber
Adolf Ulric Wertmüller

Reagan Lynette Duplisea is the associate registrar, exhibitions, at the DMA

Friday Photo Post: Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is an annual holiday that recognizes motherhood, mothers,  and their contributions to our lives. In 1868, “Mother’s Friendship Day” was established to bring together families that had been divided during the Civil War. By 1910, Mother’s Day as we now know it was established and continues to be a popular day to celebrate mothers.  Since this Sunday is Mother’s Day, I highlighted works of art with mothers in various roles. If you are a mother, I hope you enjoy this photo post and your special day! 

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Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching


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