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Arts & Culture: Art Focus
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View Banjo Lesson, one of the most celebrated paintings by an African American artist.




Exploring Freedom

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in 1859 in Pittsburgh into a middle class family. At the age of 13, after observing an artist at work at a neighborhood park, Turner decided to become an artist. Tanner's father, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, discouraged his artistic pursuits, hoping that he would instead enter the ministry. However, at the age of 21, Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. There his interest turned to landscapes. His teacher, Thomas Eakins, a noted genre painter, encouraged him to paint scenes from everyday life. In 1893, Tanner painted "The Banjo Lesson," a realistic study of African American life. By portraying an elder teaching a boy how to play the banjo, Tanner showed a positive and dignified image of African Americans. In 1895, believing he could not fulfill his artistic aspirations in America, Tanner settled in Paris. There, he focused on religious paintings, winning much critical acclaim for "Daniel in the Lion's Den" and "The Resurrection of Lazarus."

Related Artists:
Edmonia Lewis
Laura Wheeler Waring



Banjo Lesson (1893)
Click to enlarge





Period & Artists
Pre-Civil War
Exploring Freedom
Edmonia Lewis
Henry O. Tanner
Laura Wheeler Waring
The Harlem Renaissance
The Legacy
Social Activism
Modern Identities
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