Brock & Co.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859 - 1937)
Nicodemus, n.d.
Oil on canvas
13 3/4 x 10 5/8 inches
Signed at upper right: HO. TANNER
Period frame
Henry Ossawa Tanner is recognized not only as an American artist of the first rank, but also as one of the first African American artists to achieve international renown. An artist of enormous skill and sensitivity, his paintings were exhibited at the highly competitive Paris Salons, and earned critical praise. Tanner famously said that he could not fight prejudice [in America] and paint at the same time, and spent the majority of his professional career in France. Nevertheless, he continued to exhibit works in America, and ultimately earned recognition on both shores of the Atlantic.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tanner grew up in an educated and culturally active family. His father was a distinguished Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The young man had an early interest in becoming a painter, and began his studies independently. Tanner surely had great resolve to be a painter, as he had the discouraging experience of being turned away from a number of established artist's studios solely because of his skin color. (Dewey Mosby, Henry Ossawa Tanner, p. 57). From 1880 to 1882 he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he studied with Thomas Eakins, and gained a firm foundation of anatomy and the tenets of realism.

After a period when Tanner had his own studio in Philadelphia, he relocated to Atlanta, Georgia and opened a photography studio. More importantly, Tanner gained the support and patronage of Bishop Joseph Hartzell. Hartzell essentially financed an exhibition of Tanner's paintings in Cincinnati, which gave the artist the financial freedom to go abroad.

Tanner left the United States for Paris in 1891, where he finally found a supportive artistic milieu. Early on, Tanner began to exhibit at the Paris Salons, which led to steady patronage and recognition. In 1897, his painting The Resurrection of Lazarus was purchased for the Musee du Luxembourg. This single purchase gave the artist international renown, and lead to a steady exhibition schedule and loyal patronage. A trip to Jerusalem in 1897 led to a turning point in terms of subject matter as Tanner began to focus on religious and spiritual themes.