Artists in Residence: Henry O. Tanner in the Holy Land
Gwendolyn H. Everett, lecturer, National Gallery of Art. As part of the Artist in Residence lecture series, Gwendolyn H. Everett focused on Henry Ossawa Tanner’s (1859-1937) visits to the Holy Land, and how this travel affected the later religious paintings for which he achieved international recognition. In this podcast recorded on August 9, 1987, Everett explains the formative influence of Tanner’s upbringing in an educated, religious family in post-Civil War Philadelphia. Tanner’s father was a minister and, later, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his mother administered a Methodist school. Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as the only African American student in 1879, graduating in 1885. His professor, the artist Thomas Eakins, encouraged a progressive method of study from live models instead of plaster casts, which profoundly affected Tanner. after 1891 Tanner resided primarily in France; by 1895 his paintings were mostly of biblical themes, and in 1897 he made his first trip to the Holy Land, where his firsthand experience led to mastery of religious subject matter. He visited the region several times to explore mosques and biblical sites, and to complete character studies of the local population, as he had learned from Eakins. Tanner invigorated religious painting with modernism and with his deeply rooted faith, achieving renown in the international art world.