1973 8¢ Henry O. Tanner
Issue Date: September 10, 1973
First City: Pittsburgh, PA
Quantity Issued: 146,008,00
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first African American painter to gain international fame.
Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, the son of an African Methodist Episcopal minister. His parents, who had escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad as children, gave him the middle name “Ossawa” in honor of the Kansas town where abolitionist John Brown first launched his anti-slavery campaign. Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Tanner first gained recognition for his works dealing with black plantation life. In 1891, he moved to Europe to escape prejudice.
Tanner’s “The Resurrection of Lazarus” inspired art critic Rodman Wanamaker to sponsor him on an expense-paid trip to the Middle East. The trip was designed to allow Tanner to see the environment firsthand. Tanner explored mosques and biblical sites in Palestine, blending with the population and learning their character. Tanner’s subsequent work had an air of spirituality and mystique. “The Banjo Lesson,” which portrays an elderly black man teaching a young boy to play the banjo, is Tanner’s most famous work.
Tanner worked for the Red Cross Public Information Department during World War I, where he painted images from the front lines. Tanner died in Paris in 1937. His work, “Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City,” is displayed in the Green Room at the White House. It’s the first painting by an African-American artist to be acquired for the White House’s permanent collection.