Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Art Review - "Street Scene, Tangiers" & "Gateway, Tangier" by Henry Ossawa Tanner

About 25 years ago, I was fortunate to view a retrospective on the work of African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art that profoundly affected my thoughts on painting. I had never before seen a collection of work that so perfectly captured the effects of light.

The paintings are often thickly painted, possibly with a palette knife at times, and yet they never fall prey to the gimmicky characteristics of so many other palette knife paintings. The paint holds character, without the flourish of fancy bravura brushwork.

Light passes through these thick layers of often transparent oils, creating a glow that must be viewed in person. Tanner's range is evident in the way he captures light through the use of value contrast (see the first image) or color temperature contrast (second image), or often a combination of both. This is one artist's work where I can truly say that it is almost impossible to capture the feeling of the paintings in reproductions. You really have to see them for yourself in person.

Tanner's mother escaped from slavery in Virginia via the Underground Railroad, and his father was a friend of Frederick Douglass. Tanner initially studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, before moving to Paris in 1891 to study at the Academie Julian. His painting "Resurrection of Lazarus" was purchased by the French government after winning the third-place medal at the 1897 Salon. He went on to paint images of the first World War while working for the Red Cross Public Information Department, and was made a knight of the Legion of Honour by the French state. His work clearly influenced a generation of artists who followed, including Norman Rockwell, who created illustrations derivative of some of Tanner's paintings.

"Street Scene, Tangiers" • Henry Ossawa Tanner • Oil on Canvas
• c. 1910 • 23 1/4" x 26 1/2" • Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"Gateway, Tangier" • Henry Ossawa Tanner • Oil on Canvas • c. 1912
• 18 7/16" x 15 5/16" • Collection of the St. Louis Art Museum

Painting photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

© Patrick and Kimberly Saunders, Patrick Saunders Fine Arts, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors/owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patrick Saunders for painted works, or to Kimberly Saunders for photographs and/or videos, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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