MFAH Presents the Portraits, Landscapes and Biblical Paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner

Traveling retrospective has spurred renewed appreciation of Tanner’s career

Houston—September 2012—A major exhibition of the work of African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937) concludes its national tour at the MFAH. The son of a former slave, Tanner trained in Philadelphia under Thomas Eakins and went on to achieve international success. On view from October 21, 2012, through January 13, 2013, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit presents more than 100 works, including 12 paintings that have never been shown together and the only two known sculptures that Tanner completed. The exhibition also features Tanner’s famed Resurrection of Lazarus. This career-making canvas, on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, earned Tanner his first international accolade when it was exhibited in 1897, and the painting had never crossed the Atlantic before this exhibition tour.

The exhibition is organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where it opened in January before traveling to the Cincinnati Art Museum in May.

“I am delighted that Houstonians will be able to see the most extensive exhibition of Tanner’s work to date,” said MFAH director Gary Tinterow. “A contemporary of Sargent and Whistler, Tanner is perhaps better known in France than here, so this exhibition will provide the opportunity to appreciate the extraordinary career of this great American painter.”

“Tanner’s journey as an artist took him to Paris, Jerusalem, Cairo and Tangiers, and his work sold to millionaires and museums,” said Emily Ballew Neff, MFAH curator of American painting and sculpture and coordinating curator of the exhibition at the Houston venue. “This large-scale survey includes the artist’s insightful portraits, Southern landscapes, genre paintings of African American family life, epic biblical paintings, landscapes of the Holy Land and beautiful portrayals of life in France at the turn of the last century. Together the show reexamines Tanner’s career in the context of turn-of-the-century modernity and religion.”

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit delves into the life and career of Tanner from his upbringing in Philadelphia in the years after the Civil War; through the artist’s training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins; his success as an American artist at the highest levels of the international art world at the turn of the 20th century; his role as an elected leader of an artist’s colony in rural France; his unique contributions in aid of servicemen during World War I through the Red Cross in France; his modernist invigoration of religious painting deeply rooted in his own faith; and Tanner’s depiction of the Holy Land and North Africa. The exhibition also presents the first scientific and technical analysis of his artistic materials and methods.

The most substantial scholarly catalogue to date on Tanner’s life and work accompanies the exhibition. The book includes 14 essays written by established and emerging scholars from the United States and France, and it is published by University of California Press.

Organization and Funding
This exhibition is organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Exhibition Presenting Foundation sponsors: the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. This exhibition has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Leading support from the Mr. & Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition and publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Generous funding in Houston is provided by the John P. McGovern Foundation; David and Anne Frischkorn; and Ann G. Trammell.

About the MFAH
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, theater, two art schools and two libraries, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers some 64,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.

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