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

Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937

Photographer, Painter, Educator, Illustrator

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 2,532 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 2.3 Linear feet

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

African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Benjamin Tucker Tanner, a college-educated teacher and minister, and Sarah Miller Tanner, a former slave. Benjamin Tanner was very active in the African Methodist Episcopal (A. M. E.) Church, eventually becoming a bishop, and the family often moved while Henry was a small child. They settled in Philadelphia, and as a teenager, Tanner spent his free time painting, drawing, and visiting art galleries. In 1880 he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under several master art instructors, including Thomas Eakins who greatly influenced his early work.


The Henry Ossawa Tanner papers were donated in several increments by his son, Jesse O. Tanner, between 1967 to 1978. Additional papers were donated by Jesse O. Tanner through Marcia M. Mathews, who was in possession of Tanner's papers to write Tanner's biography. Four medals were transferred to the Archives from the National Museum of African Art.

Related Materials

Language Note

English and French


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