(To read more about Charlotte Mason picture study and to see the other aids I have made, click here.)
When I first began to entertain the idea of making these Picture Study Aids last fall, and in particular the non-western/people-of-color/female companion aids to the regular AO picture study schedule, I knew that Henry Ossawa Tanner, a 19th-century African American painter, would eventually show up on my line-up. Whistler, who was active just before and during Tanner’s career and inspired a few of his paintings, offered the perfect opportunity as I generally try to find a contemporary of whoever is on the AO schedule, so I was able to make one for Tanner sooner than I had hoped.
I first heard of Tanner in one of my art classes in college when a professor presented us with his Annunciation and it kind of….well….surprised me. I had been used to seeing the typical European Gothic/Renaissance/Baroque/Neoclassical/etc. versions of this scene with Mary as a caucasian woman, usually sitting chastely at her prie-dieu in the middle of a prayer, her blonde or red hair cascading down her shoulders as she serenely accepted Gabriel’s news. Aside from the fact that they are completely inaccurate and culturally insensitive on so many levels, I always thought they were still beautiful images. In fact, one of my favorite depictions of an angel also features a caucasian Mary being told she’s going to be the mother of God.
But this one….this one was so different. And I loved it. Mary is young, so very young, and I’m reminded of how vulnerable and maybe even a little scared she may have been. Rather than the passive and austere, “be it unto me according to thy word,” woman featured in other pieces on this topic, Tanner’s Mary looks a little unsure or “confused and disturbed, trying to think what the angel could mean,” or even scared …..as if she’s saying, “how can this be, since I do not know a man?” or “really? me? are you sure?”
And rather than a miniature cathedral or Renaissance-style mansion where so many other artists had placed this story, Mary is in, what appears to be, a Middle Eastern bedroom. Tanner spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East observing, sketching, and painting, thus the authenticity he infuses in his depiction is extremely refreshing. When I read this story in Luke each Christmas, this is the picture that always comes to mind.
This was probably the most difficult of the Picture Study Aids I’ve done so far (which is why I didn’t have a post last week!). Part of the problem was that I just couldn’t narrow it down to six paintings. Boy and Sheep Lying Under a Tree, The Bagpipe Lesson, Spinning by Firelight, Interior of a Mosque, Mary, The Good Shepherd, and The Disciples See Christ Walking on Water were all very close runners up. I also had a hard time finding information written about some of these paintings. His well-known paintings are covered very well, but the more obscure ones, especially those in private collections, were more difficult to research.
For outside reading specific to Tanner, I found an article that he submitted to the magazine World’s Works in 1909 about his life to be particularly interesting. He was very well-spoken and infused his writing with a subtle humor. You can read that on Google Play (page 11769).
For some background on his family and what life was like for African Americans living in the United States in the 1800s, Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist by Marcia M. Mathews was particularly interesting as it included excerpts from both Henry and his father’s diaries detailing the struggles and many prejudices they faced.
For children, I recommend Henry Ossawa Tanner: His Boyhood Dream Comes True by Faith Ringgold.
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis or study of each piece, and that is intentional. I tried to keep it all very simple in the spirit of there being, “no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.” (vol 6 pg 216)
Also, please keep in mind that I’m not even close to being a Charlotte Mason expert! And though I do have a BA in art history, I’m definitely not an expert in that area either. 🙂
For enjoying art with children in general, I also included a page of art sources that I’ve found particularly good:
Online Art Collections
For younger children, I highly recommend the Mini-Master series by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Also, the Touch The Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo.
For great artist-themed art activities for all ages, I recommend Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl.
You may download it for personal use in your own homeschool (Ambleside Online, another Charlotte Mason curriculum, or otherwise). All of the prints are included in the Picture Study Aid file, so need to download a separate file for that. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please feel free to fill out this form!