The Banjo Lesson is an oil painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, a pioneering African American artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The painting, completed in 1893 after Tanner’s visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, features two African Americans – an old man teaching a young boy to play the banjo. This work is a blend of American Realism and French Impressionism techniques.
Tanner, who was acclaimed as the first African American artist to achieve international prestige and status in his lifetime, frequently depicted biblical scenes like “The Raising of Lazarus.” However, “The Banjo Lesson” and “The Thankful Poor” remain his best-known works. At the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago, Illinois (a.k.a., The Chicago World’s Fair), The Banjo Lesson was one of several paintings displayed by Henry Ossawa Tanner that attracted considerable attention.
What makes this artwork special is its unique perspective on African-American life at that time period due to its depiction of positive imagery rather than more common derogatory images shown during those times. As such, it remains culturally significant as an example of black excellence from a time when most black people were marginalized or suppressed.