Henry Ossawa Tanner was one of the first African American artists to gain international acclaim, winning honors in both America and Europe. The son of an African Methodist Episcopal bishop, Tanner studied painting in Philadelphia under the guidance of Thomas Eakins and Thomas Hovenden at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Much of his work was devoted to carefully rendered depictions of biblical scenes, landscapes, and the everyday lives of African Americans. While his paintings won praise from some quarters, he endured many slights because of his race, and in 1891 he left America to continue his studies in Paris. Tanner found greater tolerance abroad, and although he returned to the States periodically, he spent the remainder of his life in France.
This portrait by Frederick Gutekunst was probably created during a visit to Philadelphia in 1897. Tanner’s success served as an inspiration for African American artists during the Harlem Renaissance and later.