"Spinning by Firelight -- The Boyhood of George Washington Gray" by African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner is now part of the permanent collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
The museum recently purchased the work, which was painted in 1894 while the artist was staying with The Reverend Mr. Gray and his family in Chicago. Robert Stepto, professor of African and African-American studies and English, will give an Art a la Carte talk on "Spinning by Firelight" in the American wing of the Yale Art Gallery on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 12:20 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.
Henry Ossawa Tanner 1859-1937 was born to a well-educated and socially aware family in Pittsburgh and raised in Philadelphia. His father was an African Methodist Episcopal minister and his mother, the daughter of a slave, was founder of one of the first African-American women's organizations.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Thomas Eakins, who remained a lifelong friend. In 1891 Tanner left the United States for Paris both to study and to escape the prejudice in his homeland. There he acquired an international reputation as one of the group of outstanding American expatriate artists that included Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent. He returned to the United States briefly in 1893, and it was then that he created "Spinning by Firelight," the largest of three genre paintings from that period that treat American subjects. The other two works are "The Thankful Poor," now in the collection of Bill Cosby, and "The Banjo Lesson," in the Hampton Institute collection. In 1923, the French government elected Tanner as Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the nation's highest civilian award.