This Day in Black History: June 21, 1859

Renowned painter Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh.

Posted: 06/21/2012 07:00 AM EDT
Renowned painter Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

(Photo: Courtesy Wikicommons)

During the 19th-century era into which Henry Ossawa Tanner was born on June 21, 1859, art was a luxury that few African-Americans could afford much less consider it to be a career option. But after viewing works from close to 37 different countries at the 1867 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, Tanner, who began painting at age 13, grew determined to pursue an artistic career. His father, a minister, initially had other ideas, but eventually allowed him to enroll in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and work as an illustrator for a publishing company. Tanner found inspiration in various elements, including photography, landscapes and, of course, Paris. As an artist, he broke many racial barriers and became one of the first artists to depict African-Americans as noble and hardworking, as he did in one of his better-known paintings "The Banjo Lesson." In 1995, the Clinton administration acquired his "Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City," ca. 1885, making it the first work by an African-American artist to become part of the White House collection.

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