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Portrait of the Artist's Mother

1897
Henry Ossawa Tanner, American (active France), 1859 - 1937

Painted during a triumphant visit home from Paris in 1897, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s portrait of his mother is both a tribute to Sarah Tanner—the central, stabilizing figure in her large and distinguished African American family—and a celebration of her son’s recent success in his chosen career, in which he had persevered despite initial opposition from his parents.


In its composition the work refers to a world-famous image by another American: James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother of 1871. Tanner’s portrait of his mother has none of the cool austerity of Whistler’s picture; instead it is an affectionate portrayal of a strong, sensitive, thoughtful personality.

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Object Details

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