Over the last forty years, renewed interest in the career of Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) has vaulted him into expanding scholarly discourse on American art. Consequently, he has emerged as the most studied and recognized representative of African American art during the nineteenth century. In fact, Tanner, in the spirit of political correctness and racial inclusiveness, has gained a prominent place in recent textbooks on mainstream American art and his painting, The Banjo Lesson (1893), has become an iconic symbol of black creativity. In addition, Tanner achieved national recognition when the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1991 and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2012 celebrated him with major retrospectives. The latter exhibition brought in a record number of viewers. While Tanner lived a relatively simple life where his faith and family dictated many of the choices he made daily, his emergence as a prominent black artist in the late nineteenth century often thrust him openly into coping with the social complexities inherent with America's great racial divide. In order to fully appreciate how he negotiated prevailing prejudices to find success, this book places him in the context of a uniquely talented black man experiencing the demands and rewards of nineteenth-century high art and culture. By careful examination on multiple levels previously not detailed, this book adds greatly to existing Tanner scholarship and provides readers with a more complete, richly deserved portrait of this preeminent American master.
Naurice Frank Woods, Jr. is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the former program head and has published recently in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, American Art, and the Journal of Black Masculinity.
Prologue: Henry Ossawa Tanner, "Negro Painter"
Introduction: Creativity and Racism in the Nineteenth Century
1. Of the Father and of the Son: the Rise of Benjamin and Henry Tanner
2. Into the South and Across the Sea: Atlanta and Paris Beckon
3. The American Interlude: Race and Religion on Canvas
4. Crossing Over Jordan: Salon Triumph and Spiritual Crisis
5. A Salon Master in a Modern Century
6. The Great War, the New Negro, and the Celestial City
Epilogue: The Redemption of Memory