Raised in Philadelphia, Henry Ossawa Tanner went on to become one of the most successful American artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His unusual middle name derives from Osawatomie, Kansas, the town defended by the abolitionist John Brown against pro-slavery agitators in 1856. Tanner began painting as a young teenager and by age twenty was granted admission to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Despite discrimination and mistreatment, he flourished under the tutelage of the realist painter Thomas Eakins and became known for his reverent depictions of African Americans and religious subjects.
Frustrated by racial prejudice, Tanner left Philadelphia in 1889, moving first to Atlanta, then to Paris, which became his permanent home. In 1912, Tanner spent several months in Morocco, a trip that inspired a great number of works including “Moroccan Scene,” which displays the dramatic handling of light for which Tanner became known. Tanner was the only African-American artist of his generation to gain widespread acclaim and remains a most celebrated artist today.
Remarkably, Tanner has a tie to Alabama: in 1891, his sister, Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson, became the first woman to practice medicine in this state.