Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s-1978, bulk 1890-1937

Tanner, Henry Ossawa, b. 1859 d. 1937
Painter, Educator, Photographer, Illustrator
Active in Philadelphia, Pa.; Atlanta, Ga.

The papers of Henry Ossawa Tanner in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 2,471 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


Collection size: 2.3 linear feet

Collection Summary: The papers of the expatriate African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner measure 2.3 linear feet and date from the 1860s to 1978, with the bulk of the material dating from 1890 to 1937. Found in the papers are scattered biographical, family, and legal materials; twenty-seven folders of correspondence with family, friends, patrons, and galleries; writings and notes by Tanner and others; a small amount of printed material; numerous photographs of Tanner, his studio in Paris and home in Trepied, Normandy, his family, friends, fellow artists, and his artwork. Additional photographs include a circa 1890 shot of Tanner with fellow students at the Académie Julian and another depicting Tanner with members of the American Art Club in Paris, circa 1900. Also found are a few sketches and drawings.

Biographical/Historical Note: Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was a painter from Pittsburgh, Pa. He was a painter mainly of biblical scenes. Trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, studying with Thomas Eakins (who painted a well-known portrait of him). After the failure of his photographic portrait studio in Atlanta, Ga., Tanner went abroad in 1891; the trip was financed by a Methodist bishop, Joseph Crane Hartzell and his wife. Tanner settled in Paris, France and remained there until his death, barring a brief period during World War I, when Tanner and his family were evacuted to England.

Donated by Jesse O. Tanner 1967-1978, through Marcia M. Mathews, who had been sent all of Tanner's papers by Jesse Tanner in order to complete her biography.

The collection was fully digitized in 2007 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Grant.

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Related Materials

Also found at the Archives of American Art are the Marcia M. Mathews papers relating to Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1937-1969, available on microfilm reels 64 and 3268.
Archives of American Art microfilm reel 4399 contains the Alexander family papers relating to Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1912-1985, the originals of which are housed in the University of Pennsylvania Archives. Microfilm reel 4397 is a copy of the the Henry O. Tanner letters to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1885-1909, loaned for microfilming by the Academy.