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Analyzing Tanner
May 14, 2010


The back of Henry O. Tanner's Study for the Annunciation. Click on image for a close-up of notes believed to be Tanner's.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has the largest collection of works by African American Henry O. Tanner in the United States. Several paintings are in the Lunder Conservation Center undergoing technical analysis in preparation for the 2012 exhibition Henry O. Tanner: An International Retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Since Tanner was known for experimenting with materials, Smithsonian conservators are collaborating with PAFA researchers to understand the evolution of his methods. The findings from the study will be published later in the exhibition catalogue.

This image shows the back of Study for the Annunciation, which Tanner painted around 1898. The detail highlights scribbled notes believed to be Tanner's. The first word is difficult to read, but the second is "cracks" and points to a crack pattern in the top glazing layer on the square of test paint. These types of paintouts have never been documented on Tanner's works, and this is an important discovery for use in our analysis. It appears that he was experimenting with various glazes and formulas to achieve different effects in the paint layers. This notation may support the theory that Tanner manipulated his materials to achieve or prevent certain visual effects on his surfaces.

Mary Tait and Amber Kerr-Allison contributed to this post.

Posted by Georgina on May 14, 2010 in American Art Here, Behind the Scenes, Conservation at American Art, Museums & Technology


I just love this piece! Thank you for sharing!

It will be quite interesting to see the results of this study. I suspect that you will see that this was a case of experimentation in different uses of the mediums. Any fans of Tanner who are in striking distance of Atlanta must make a trip to the High Museum to see their collection of his works. It is breathtaking.

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