Monday, February 6, 2012

Detail from ‘The Resurrection of Lazarus,’ 1896, by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, photo by Hervé Lewandoswki

'View of the Seine, Looking Toward Notre Dame' 1896 by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York,

Last weekend was filled with some wonderful treats: one of them was the very well done exhibit, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts -- the two images above are from paintings featured in the show. Tanner is not as well known as he deserves to be, but in brief, he was the son of a third generation freed man from Pittsburgh and a former slave who escaped to freedom on the underground railroad. Tanner decided at a young age to pursue his dream of being an artist, and he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and was fortunate to work under the best American artists of the time, including Thomas Eakins, who was to become a mentor to Tanner. In 1891, Tanner traveled to Europe, and he noted that in Paris, "no one regards me curiously...I am simply 'M. Tanner, an American artist.' Nobody knows or cares what was the complexion of my forbears. I live and work there on terms of absolute social equality." 'The Resurrection of Lazarus' was accepted in the Salon of 1896, and as the accompanying exhibit brochure states, "Tanner's career became international news...He won a medal and became one of only a handful of American artists collected by the French government." Among other works in the show I particularly liked are 'The Arch,' (1919), 'Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures' (1909; his wife Jessie and their son were the models for this painting, which is in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art), and 'Interior of a Mosque, Cairo' (1897).

In the first edition of my Paris book, I included an entry on 'African-Americans in Paris' in the 'Renseignements Pratiques' section (renamed 'A Paris Miscellany' in my more recent edition). I wrote that "especially in the 1950s and sixties, but also for many years before that, there was an important community of African-American artists and writers in Paris. Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Henry Tanner, Langston Hughes, to name just a few, were all in Paris, a city where as Richard Wright has written, "your color is the least important thing about you."" I also noted that I'd seen a great exhibit in 1996 at the Studio Museum in Harlem entited "Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-1965" and the accompanying catalog includes essays and excerpts about the Paris art word in the twenties and thirties. A related work that's also a good read is From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980 (Michel Fabre, University of Illinois Press, 1991), and a wonderful article to read is "Chez Tournon: A Homage" by Paule Marshall, The Sophisticated Traveler edition of The New York Times Magazine, 18 October, 1982.

My husband, daughter, and I took a different route from New York to Philadelphia, and we drove through the charming town of Frenchtown, New Jersey. The route happened to be prettier, more interesting, and a little shorter, but the reason we chose it is because my daughter has been pestering us to go a cafe called the Lovin' Oven, which she'd learned about from a show on the Food Network called 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate.' The "best thing" was a chocolate salted caramel pie ($6 a slice, $50 for the whole pie), and I can officially claim it was without doubt one of the very best desserts I have ever eaten on the planet. Though we only stopped to get slices of the pie to go, I took a sample menu with me and we definitely plan on having a meal there -- the menu is packed with local, seasonal dishes and looks fantastic. As writer Tammy La Gorce noted in The New York Times in 2010, the husband-and-wife owners Julie Klein and Mike Quinn "already had a loyal following" before they moved the cafe from Milford to Frenchtown. "The couple's commitment to cooking with local ingredients and to baking on the premises, including the beloved sweet potato biscuits, has earned it the devotion of locavores as well as those who never end a meal without dessert."

And, Lovin' Oven is right next to (a part of the same building, actually) Two Buttons, the cool mostly Asian-inspired home furnishings store owned by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) and her husband, Jose Nunes, who lease the space to Lovin' Oven (open Wednesday to Saturday 8 to 9; Sunday from 8 to 3; closed on Monday and Tuesday). If you're interested, Lovin' Oven is offering a great Valentine's Day menu with lots of choices for $60 per person. Note no credit cards or reservations are accepted, and it's B.Y.O.B. If you have to wait a while you can get lost in the cavernous Two Buttons.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Ms. Kerper,

    Well, how fun to run across your predictably informative posting on Tanner. I didn't know that the Academy was holding an exhibition of his work.

    Perhaps you'll already know that Tanner figures in David McCullough's wonderful "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris" (published 2011).

    Amusingly enough? During his initial, student-budget days in Paris, Tanner DID actually encounter some pretty serious prejudice (albeit of a distinctly French character):

    "In the cheap restaurants to which I went, they did not care to serve one unless one took wine--they made little or no profit on the food...I was thus an undesirable customer and several times forced to change my restaurant."

    I read that passage by Tanner and considered that my grandmother's house in Tennessee was, after all, rather Parisian....she never could have cared less what color anyone's skin was, but she always claimed that she didn't trust a man who didn't drink.

    By the way, I'm a great fan of your books/writing, having discovered "The Collected Traveler" series just last year. The Tuscany & Umbria volume arrived just two days ago. Not that I've ever visited or particularly plan to visit the region anytime soon; I spend half my days in France (I'm married into a French family) or Spain, and Italy just never seems to be on the way to anywhere I'm going. Silly, but true.

    I'm a third through your Tuscany/Umbria book, though and was thinking, just yesterday, that, one of these fine days, I need to announce that I'm simply going to skip some French relative's wedding or birthday (it's a big, all-too-happy family) and fly straight on to Italy....just once, at least?

    Well, thanks for your very fine books and good blog.

    Oh, you'll enjoy this (particularly since you're a writer yourself and, as I see, have interviewed Frances Mayes). This is the funniest, wryest remark I've read in a very long while. As you'll know full well, Frances, having created that gargantuan Tuscan-mania juggernaut, now sits atop the massive thing. I haven't any doubt that she must often wonder "What hath I created?". In any case, she wrote a brief note to me yesterday (she and Ed live about 12 miles from my front porch) in which she somewhat apologized for her tardiness in replying......explaining that she'd just relievedly finished an overdue magazine article and had been "under the Tuscan gun lately...".

    I thought that was extremely funny.


    David Terry