Museum Minute: The Newest 'In Dialogue' Focuses on the African American Artist - Henry Ossawa Tanner
Since early 2020, the museum has presented a series of extremely focused single-wall exhibitions within its permanent collection, titled “In Dialogue.” The idea is to present a small group of objects to illuminate them in greater depth. Past versions have focused on Cecilia Beaux, cousins Ronald Lockett and Thornton Dial, and 19th-century Russian prints. The newest “In Dialogue” focuses on the African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, fueled by the loan of a painting from the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Tanner left the United States in 1891 for Europe to escape prejudice and continue his training as an artist. Settling in France, he won international fame for his genre scenes, his depictions of the French landscape, and, most of all, his religious pictures. The museum also owns a still life painting by Tanner of apples that hangs in its galleries.
Titled “Les Invalides” the painting that inspired the exhibition shows a complex of buildings in Paris that used to be a hospital and retirement home for veterans. Its grand golden dome, which towers above the tomb of Napoleon, offers an image of transcendence. This theme perhaps echoes the release Tanner experienced by leaving behind oppression to find artistic freedom in Paris.
Tanner became a mentor for a new generation of Black painters who traveled to France to seek his professional guidance. The exhibition, on view through June 18, 2023, highlights the breadth and weight of Tanner’s influence on the style and subjects of artists including William H. Johnson, Hale Woodruff, William Edouard Scott, and Palmer Hayden.