In Paris … no one regards me curiously. I am simply 'M. Tanner, an American artist. I live and work there on terms of absolute social equality.
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Questions of race or color are not considered—a man's professional skill and social qualities are fairly and ungrudgingly recognized. No one who had not carefully observed the art world of Paris could have any clear idea of its broad and deep race admixture. When I began to study under [Jean-Joseph Benjamin-] Constant I found in the studios men of all nations and races under the sun—Muscovites and Tartars; Arabs and Japanese; Hindoos and Mongolians; Africans and South Sea Islanders—all working earnestly and harmoniously with students of the Caucasian race.
It is so now, in greater degree and on even broader lines. Judging from this description, the Parisian studios, with their "broad and deep race admixture," might be said to resemble Renan's Galilee and the pluralistic crowd of onlookers in Tanner's Lazarus —"men of all nations and races" who coexist "earnestly and harmoniously," unconcerned about "questions of race or color. A more personally revealing statement about racial heterogeneity appears in one of Tanner's private letters.
In , an American art critic named Eunice Tietjens sent Tanner a draft of a recent review she had written in which she praised his work but also offered her sympathy for the many trials and obstacles he had faced as a "negro" artist. Now am I a Negro? I believe it, the Negro blood counts and counts to my advantage—though it has caused me at times a life of great humiliation and sorrow[.
But] that it is the source of all my talents if I have any I do not believe, any more than I believe it all comes from my English ancestors.
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Tanner's statement here is extraordinary for the way in which it pays tribute to the coexistence of "English" and "Negro" blood in his veins, crediting both as sources of his talent despite the "humiliation and sorrow" ostensibly caused by the latter. As his mother had been born a slave, the granddaughter of a white plantation owner in Virginia, Tanner was keenly aware that he and his family embodied the complex racial legacy of America's "peculiar institution," especially since his relatively light skin led many people to call him a "mulatto" or "quadroon.
Moreover, while his reference to blood fractions reflects a nineteenth-century understanding of genetics—that is, one not yet informed by turn-of-the-century critiques of racial formalism by anthropologist Franz Boas or the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's genetic research—his placement of the word "pure" in quotations suggests an intuitive, modern awareness of the problematic nature of such racial calculations.
His statement approaches that of Renan, who concluded regarding Christ it was "impossible to raise any question of race here. Christian Colonialism Mary was one of the four pictures that Tanner provided to Ladies Home Journal in and to illustrate his series of short articles on "The Mothers of the Bible. As noted by Milette Shamir and other cultural historians, figures of domesticity and motherhood proliferated in American Protestant literary representations of the Holy Land during the late nineteenth century.
Warren's travelogue provides a case in point:. Yet I have been in no country that is so unlike my own. Somehow this seems as if I had lived here long ago in my half-forgotten youth, or possibly in some ante-natal condition, dimly remembered. As I try to clear away the mists, bring forward the distant, and make present what seems prehistoric, I find myself at my mother's side and my early childhood renewed. Now I see why this strange country seems so natural.
Such expressions of intimate connection to the Holy Land, articulated through the maternal body, clearly reinforced a pre-millennial sense of Christian colonial entitlement. More specifically, as Shamir observes, American Protestants figured the Holy Land "as a feminized, biologized point of origin … as a mother, who offers the assurance of a common past and the promise of continuity as remedies for the racial and ethnic anxieties of the progressive era. According to this view, the ancient blood of the Holy Land was intact and Americans were its chosen inheritors, its descendents.
Most, but not all, contemporary critics praised Tanner's new style. Rilla Evelyn Jackman noted rather ambivalently that "Many of his pictures are positively weird, so unusual is his color and lighting. Some of his later canvases are much lighter in color than the earlier ones, but all are rich, and the tonal quality is pleasing. Tanner" in such a "higher key" and "cold palette," which "does not seem temperamentally suited to him.
The present article expands on the text of a public lecture entitled "Tanner, Hybridity, and the Blood of the Holy Land," delivered in the session on Postcolonialism, Globalization, and American Art at the annual conference of the College Art Association, Seattle, 21 February The author wishes to thank Bill Anthes and Elizabeth Hutchinson for organizing that session.
For recent discussions of Tanner's biblical paintings, including the Nicodemus , see Marcus C. Tanner quoted in William R. Lester, "Henry O. For Tanner's exhibition history and awards, see Mosby , pp. Sharon F.
Misgivings about Tanner's turn from "Negro" genre pictures were voiced as early as According to the prominent African-American educator W. Scarborough, "When 'The Banjo Lesson' appeared many of the friends of the race sincerely hoped that a portrayer of Negro life by a Negro artist had arisen indeed.
They hoped, too, that the treatment of race subjects by him would serve to counterbalance so much that has made the race only a laughing-stock subject for those artists who see nothing in it but the most extravagantly absurd and grotesque. But this was not to be. For a brief discussion of Tanner and universality in the context of a broad survey of other artists, see Kymberly N. Pinder does not broach Tanner's personal and pictorial hybridity as potentially destabilizing "race" itself.
Du Bois originally made this statement in an address to the first Pan-African Conference of On Plessy, see Brook Thomas, " Plessy v. Ogden's and Rodman Wanamaker's support of Tanner, including funding the artist's Palestine expeditions, is discussed in Bruce , pp. For information about Rodman Wanamaker's activities with the Wanamaker business and as an administrator of the American Art Association in Paris, where he lived from to , see Joseph H. Gibbons observed that "Through his son Rodman he [John Wanamaker] became acquainted with the work of H.
Tanner, whose choice of religious subjects greatly appealed to him. Simon J. Davis discusses Tanner briefly pp. For an excellent historical examination of such issues as they relate to the Protestant "American Colony" in Jerusalem, see Shamir , especially pp. The uncanny return of such questions—regarding archaeological accuracy, stigmatization of Jews, etc.
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Documentary evidence indicates that Tanner was well aware of Tissot's success. This is clear from a letter written by Robert Ogden to Tanner in "I like the idea of the production of a collection that may be suggested by the subjects that you may find in Palestine. It strikes me that, if the number of pictures is sufficiently large to command general interest, it would be a very great success. The Tissot pictures, when first exhibited in this country [the United States], were welcomed by crowds of intelligent people.
Of course, they were greatly advertised in advance, but some of the wisdom of this world may be applied to the development of your idea. Philadelphia: A. Book Concern, Sander L. There is no indication of a source for the phrase that Tanner placed in quotations.
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According to critic Vance Thompson, Tanner "is a mystic, but a mystic who has read Renan and studied with Benjamin Constant. Ernest Renan, Life of Jesus , trans. In a footnote, Renan locates the etymological origins of "Galilee" in the Hebrew Gelil haggoyim or "circle of the Gentiles. Sally M. Florence L. Bentley, "Henry O. Tanner," The Voice 3, no. According to Tietjens frame , "In his personal life Mr.
Tanner has had many things to contend with. Ill-health, poverty and race prejudice, always strong against a negro, have made the way hard for him. But he has come unspoiled alike through these early struggles and through his later successes. On Tanner's genealogy, see Mosby , pp. According to Mathews, Tanner's mother Sarah had been born to a slave named Elizabeth and Charles Miller, "the mulatto son of a white planter in Winchester, Virginia. On Boas and Mendel, see George W. Christian, or "Adamite," monogenism is distinguished from both rational monogenism and polygenism the latter two conducive to racist scientism in John S.
Haller, Jr. On the etymology of "hybrid" as originating in the ancient Latin hybrida , referring to the offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar, see Sollors , p. Sollors also notes the influential essay by antebellum segregationist Josiah Nott entitled "The Mulatto a Hybrid—probable extermination of the two races if the Whites and Blacks are allowed to intermarry," American Journal of Medical Sciences 66 July For a discussion of nineteenth-century American scientific notions of hybridity and debates about the origins and boundaries of the human species, see Haller , pp.
On the United States as exemplifying a plantation "settlement colony" model of economic organization marked by multifarious aspects of "hybridity," see Obenzinger , pp.
Helen Cole, "Henry O. Tanner, Painter," Brush and Pencil 6, no. On Dagnan-Bouveret, see Gabriel P. The French painter had been the teacher of Tanner's teacher, Thomas Eakins, when the latter studied in Paris from to Mathews , p.
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