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Henry O. Tanner was the first Black artist to gain international acclaim, and is also notable for being the first Black artist to have their work purchased by the White House as part of its permanent collection.

Tanner was born June 21, 1859 in Pittsburgh to an A.M.E. minister father and a mother who escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. The family eventually settled in Philadelphia, where a young Tanner was drawn to art as a teenager. In his early 20’s, Tanner began receiving formal training in art from Thomas Eakins, becoming the famed American artist’s first Black student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

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With mild success in the states, most especially as a photographer in Atlanta, Tanner desired to advance his career in Europe were racism was less rampant. In 1891, two wealthy benefactors purchased the bulk of his work, allowing Tanner to move to Paris and further his education at Academie Julien.

Tanner’s 1893 painting, “The Banjo Lesson,” might be the most known of his works. In 1995, the White House acquired Tanner’s 1885 painting, “Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City.”

Henry Tanner passed in 1937 at the age of 77.

PHOTO: Public Domain

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