Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit

Exhibition Info
Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building
Curators
Anna O. Marley, Curator of Historical American Art
Henry O. Tanner's greatest works together for the first time in a generation

The subject of this exhibition was the career and life of the artist Henry O. Tanner (1859-1937) - including the pioneering African-American artist’s upbringing in Philadelphia in the years after the Civil War; the artist’s success as an American expatriate artist at the highest levels of the international art world at the turn of the 20th century; his role as a leader of an artist’s colony in rural France; his unique contributions in aid of American servicemen to the Red Cross efforts in WWI France; his modernist invigoration of religious painting deeply rooted in his own faith; his depictions of the Holy Land and North Africa interpreted through comparison with contemporary French orientalist painting and photography; and the scientific and technical innovations of the Tanner's oeuvre.
 
Tanner was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) from 1879 to 1885. PAFA is proud to have organized this exhibition, and especially to elevate Tanner’s reputation through new scholarship and to bring his greatest works together for the first time in a generation.

After the PAFA presentation, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit went on tour, first to the Cincinnati Art Museum (May 26 - September 9, 2012) and then to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 21, 2012 - January 13, 2013).

Public programming for the exhibition included:

  • The first-ever children’s book about Henry O. Tanner, published by PAFA, and written and illustrated by the renowned artist-author Faith Ringgold: Henry Ossawa Tanner: His Boyhood Dream Comes True
  • A symposium held in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay on November 9-10, 2011
  • The first technical study of Tanner’s experimentation with materials and methods, authored by Brian Baade and Amber Kerr-Allison. This technical study was conducted in partnership with the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Lunder Conservation Center. For more information, click here.
Henry O. Tanner, Nicodemus, 1899, Oil on canvas, 33 11/16 x 39 1/2 in., Joseph E. Temple Fund, 1900.1
Henry O. Tanner, Nicodemus, 1899, Oil on canvas, 33 11/16 x 39 1/2 in., Joseph E. Temple Fund, 1900.1
Installation view of Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, 2012
Installation view of Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, 2012
Installation view of Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, 2012
Installation view of Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, 2012
Faith Ringgold, Henry Ossawa Tanner; His Boyhood Dream Comes True, 2010, Serigraph, ed. of 100, 22 x 30 in., 2012.2,Copyright © 2010 Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold, Henry Ossawa Tanner; His Boyhood Dream Comes True, 2010, Serigraph, ed. of 100, 22 x 30 in., 2012.2,Copyright © 2010 Faith Ringgold