Painted 11 years after Henry Ossawa Tanner first settled in Paris in 1891, this rapidly executed plein-air oil sketch is one of the artist’s rare depictions of the French capital. Topographically accurate, the view is from the right bank of the Seine looking west toward the twin towers of the Palais du Trocadero, the ornate convention center erected for the 1878 Exposition Universelle. A diffuse, hazy light fills the scene, which is devoid of human activity save for a solitary figure at the lower right. Utilizing short, loose brushstrokes laden with paint, Tanner captured the scattered reflections of light across both river and sky.
Art historian John Wilmerding observed that The Seine is surprisingly modern when compared with the majority of Tanner’s works, noting that “the soft colors and gauzy silhouettes, the open expanse of water and sky, and the high horizon serving to flatten the spatial recession are all Whistlerian in character.” Perhaps intended as a memento for a friend in Philadelphia, The Seine was an impromptu study and not destined for exhibition. Though small, this exceptionally evocative painting possesses some of the mood and mystery characteristic of the artist’s better-known religious subjects.
lower left: F.F. Gut[ekunst] / H.O. T[anner] / [...]y 10, 1902; on cardboard backing now removed: Presented to / Mr. F. F. Gutekunst / H.O. Tanner / Seine 1902 Paris
Frederick F. Gutekunst [1831-1917], Philadelphia. private collection; Graham Williford, Fairfield, Texas; purchased 1971 by NGA.
- Henry Ossawa Tanner, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, 1991-1992, no. 37, repro.
- L'impressionnisme américain 1880-1915, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne, 2002, no. 50, repro.
- After Whistler: The Artist and His Influence on American Painting, High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Detroit Institute of Arts, 2003-2004, no. 60, repro.
- Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism and its Response in Pennsylvania Painting, 1900-1950, Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg; Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona; Erie Art Museum; James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, 2006-2007, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 246, repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 17, no. 49, color repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: color repro. 161, 185.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 156, no. 55, color repro.
- Mosby, Dewey F., Darrell Sewell, and Rae Alexander-Minter. Henry Ossawa Tanner. Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1991: 134, no. 37.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 365, repro.
- Mittler, Gene A., and Rosalind Ragans. Understanding Art. New York, 1997: 236, 295, fig.15-10.
- Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 196-198, color repro.