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Henry Ossawa Tanner

June 21, 1859 - May 25, 1937


Henry Ossawa Tanner was an American artist and the first African American painter to gain international acclaim. He is best known for his expressive realism style the depicted the lives of African Americans and Biblical stories.
Tanner was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and was the eldest of seven children. His father was a teacher and minister. His mother was a former slave who escaped through the Underground Railroad. Tanner grew up with an interest in art and constantly drew and looked at art. After his self-study throughout his teenage years, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1879. He was the only black student enrolled at the time and developed a thorough knowledge of painting human anatomy and expressing human figures in paintings. Tanner believed that he could not fulfill his artistic potential whilst fighting discrimination in America and moved to Paris in 1891. In Paris, he enrolled in the Academie Julian, and within three years, he painted his two most important works depicting African American subjects, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor. Tanner continued working in France and achieved international reputation largely through his paintings about religious themes, biblical stories, and spirituality.

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