Thursday, July 16, 2015

Henry Ossawa Tanner Works at the Musée d'Orsay

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was the most distinguished African-American artist of the nineteenth century, as well as the first to achieve international acclaim.

Henry Ossawa Tanner
Archives of American Art

Three of his works are currently on display at the Musée d'Orsay (click on the title beneath each thumbnail to view a larger image):

The Resurrection of Lazarus
(1896) Oil on canvas

The Pilgrims of Emmaüs
(1905) Oil on canvas

Christ and His Disciples on the Road to Bethany
(undated) Oil on canvas

The French government acquired The Resurrection of Lazarus and The Pilgrims of Emmaüs from the artist the year after each was painted. Both paintings hung at the Musée de Luxembourg until 1922, when they were moved to the Jeu de Paume museum in the Tuileries Garden. They remained there until 1946. The early provenance of Christ and His Disciples on the Road to Bethany is uncertain.

All three paintings were transferred to the Musée d'Art Moderne in 1946 and were acquired by the Musée d'Orsay between 1977 and 1980.

For the past twenty years, these works have been held in reserve at the museum. They were made available for public viewing during the symposium entitled Afro American Artists and France: In Henry Ossawa Tanner's Footsteps, which was held at the museum in 2011. This event was timed to coincide with the loan of Tanner's paintings to the Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit* retrospective exposition of his work that was mounted by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia in 2012.

The retrospective, which traveled to Cincinnati and Houston after leaving Philadelphia, was the first time that The Resurrection of Lazarus, which won a medal at the Paris Salon of 1897, was ever viewed in the United States.

Tanner was a student at PAFA from 1879 to 1885. He came to Paris in 1891, stopping over on a trip to Rome. So enthralled was he by life in Paris that he would not get to the Eternal City for another five years. Aside from a year that he spent in Philadelphia to recuperate from a bout with typhoid fever, he lived in France until his death in 1937.

The French Government awarded Tanner the Legion of Honor for his work in 1923.

At the time of this writing, The Resurrection of Lazarus can be viewed in the Galerie Symboliste on the ground floor of the Musée d'Orsay. Christ and His Disciples on the Road to Bethany and The Pilgrims of Emmaüs can be viewed in Salle 58 on the first floor of the museum.

*To listen to an audio tour of the Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit retrospective mounted by PAFA, click HERE.


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