Masterpiece: The Banjo Lesson, 1893 by Henry Tanner

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1 Masterpiece: The Banjo Lesson, 1893 by Henry Tanner Keywords: Grade: Month: Activity: Mood, Light and Composition, Portrait 3 rd Grade February Family Portraits Meet the Artist: Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in 1859 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a minister in the Methodist Church. He was an African American artist best known for his paintings of religious subjects, genre (everyday) scenes and portraits and was the first African American artist to gain international acclaim. At the age of 21, Tanner enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia at a time when new methods of drawing the human figure were developing such as using live models, open discussion of the male and female anatomy and dissections of cadavers to understand the human body. Although Tanner was extremely successful at the Academy and as an artist, he was not fully accepted in the art world due to racism strong Philadelphia at the time. In late 1891, Tanner left America for France and would spend the rest of his life there. He died in Paris in On one of his short trips home, he painted his most famous work, The Banjo Lesson which shows an elderly black man teaching what is assumed to be his grandson to play the banjo. Often regarded as a realist painter, Tanner skillfully portrays the people as real and not caricatures, setting the portrait apart from other images of black musicians by other artists of the time. Additionally he portrays a specific moment of human interaction that focuses on the sense of real contact, cooperation and concentration. Another painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (c.1885) is the first painting by an African American artist to enter the permanent collection of the White House.

2 KEY WORDS Composition is the placement, organization or arrangement of the visual elements or feature in a work of art that is distinct from the subject. See Below for Demonstration. Portrait before cameras were used to take a family portrait, a family or individual would usually pay an artist to paint their portrait in a pleasant setting like outdoors or in a beautiful room. This meant standing perfectly still for a number of hours while the painter first sketched the likeness of each individual and then finished the portrait with paint or pastel. Have the students try to keep perfectly still for a minute to see if they can do it. Mood is the general atmosphere, or state of mind and feelings, that a work of art generates. For example, the mood of a painting could be disturbing or tranquil, dark or energetic. Demonstration on Composition to help the students really see the idea of how an artist COMPOSES a painting try taking 5 children to the front of the class and have one or two student(s) stand directly in the front and remainder stand in the back surrounding the front student(s). Have the background students pose in various positions. (i.e. kneeling, arms or knees up in air, facing opposite direction) to give a frame to the front student(s). Talk about how we can still see all 5 students, but the front student(s) is/are the most dominant and while the other students can still be seen, they are secondary to the overall picture and are organized to add interest or composition. Possible Questions: Who are the people in this painting? How do you think they feel about each other? Are they poor or wealthy? What are the colors that you see? Are they mostly cool colors or warm? Where is the light coming from? (The figures are illuminated by two separate and varying light sources; a natural white/blue glow from an outside window is on the left while the warm light from a fireplace is apparent on the right.) How does this painting make you feel?

3 Activity: Family Portraits Materials needed: 1. 9 x 12 White construction paper 2. Oil Pastels 3. Paper towels to wipe fingers after smudging Process: 1. Have the student take a moment to imagine their family members doing things they like to do. They could be doing things by themselves or with the rest of the family. They could be within an indoor or outdoor setting and should include the props. Remind them about COMPOSITION or placement of the people and their respective props. Ask the student to think about what time of the day the family is doing their favorite thing and where the LIGHT is coming from. (I.e. the sun sunrise or sunset, a fireplace, flashlight, etc.). How are they feeling about each other.what is the overall mood of the portrait? 2. Give each student a piece of construction paper and box of oil pastels. 3. Ask the student to draw a portrait of their family doing the event they imagined. As they draw, reiterate the concepts of COMPOSITION and LIGHT. Have them fill the entire paper with their family. Also, the colors used do not have to be rational. If the child imagines a yellow or purple face at sunset it doesn t matter! 4. They should sign their art in lower right corner Note about Oil Pastels: Oil pastels are not crayons. The colors can be blended and smoothed using a fingertip. Heavier coverage and blending will create unique shadows, highlights and tones. Encourage students to experiment with blending: use two solid colors next to each other and use their finger to smudge the line between the colors.

4 Photograph of Henry Ossawa Tanner and Other Works (1907) Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (c. 1885) From the permanent collection of the White House

5 1898 Gateway, Tangier 1912

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