In honor of Fathers’ Day, we are showcasing artist Henry Ossawa Tanner’s tender rendering of his wife and son, whom he used as models for Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures. In addition to this painting in the DMA’s collection, another, later version is in the Des Moines Art Center. The two were based on inscribed photographs taken by Tanner of his Swedish-born wife, Jessie, and their son, Jesse; the photographs are now housed in the Tanner Papers collection at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
(Image: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting of Christ and his mother studying the scriptures, not after 1910. aaa.si.edu/)
Tanner painted a portrait of his own father, African Methodist Episcopal bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1897), now in the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Tanner family lived primarily in France, where the artist had settled in the 19th century to escape racial discrimination in America. The artist’s last years were devoted to the care and recovery of his only son, who had a nervous breakdown following his graduation from Cambridge. Jesse Tanner went on to become a successful petroleum engineer, and in the 1950s he wrote a manuscript, The Life and Works of Henry O. Tanner, dedicated to his father.
Visit Tanner’s painting, on view in the DMA’s Level 4 galleries and included in free general admission, this weekend to celebrate the dad in your life.
Reagan Duplisea is the Associate Registrar at the DMA.