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Portrait of the Artist's Mother

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

Made in United States, North and Central America


Oil on canvas

29 1/4 × 39 1/2 inches (74.3 × 100.3 cm) Framed: 35 1/4 × 45 3/8 × 2 1/2 inches (89.5 × 115.3 × 6.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 216, American Art, second floor (McCausland Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Partial gift of Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter and purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, the George W. Elkins Fund, the Edward and Althea Budd Fund, and with funds contributed by The Dietrich Foundation, 1993

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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.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.