American Art

December 5th: Flight into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Flight Into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner
Henry Ossawa Tanner, Flight Into Egypt, 1923. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo via

When I decided I wanted to do a flight into Egypt painting today, I expected to pick a famous one.  This common subject for religious paintings, involving Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus fleeing their persecutors on the back of a donkey has been represented by artists such as Rembrandt, Pussin, and Claude Lorrain.  Instead, I fell in love with this gem by an American artist I didn’t really know anything about. Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was a pioneering African-American artist who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then in Paris – in both cases with the foremost teachers of the late nineteenth century. Tanner primarily painted religious scenes, and though they are oil paintings, many of his works remind me of watercolors by John Singer Sargent. I think it’s the combination of ancient subject matter and turn-of-the-century Impressionist-esque aesthetics that attract me so much to this work. This Flight into Egypt (Tanner did multiple) is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I also loved this painting of the same subject by French painter Eugene Alexis Girardet (1853-1907).

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