Banjo Legacy

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Banjo Legacy
Many say a picture is worth a thousand words. This holds to be true with the painting called The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner. This painting is an example of the 19th century realism. Realism is the tendency to see things as they really are.(realism) These ideas of realism and Tanner collide into the painting, The Banjo Lesson bringing forth a comprehensive visual analysis, and a historical view through race, gender, class, and events in 1893 that make this painting almost come alive.

The banjo lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner was painted in 1893 on oil on canvas. This was a medium sized painting that showed great values visually and yet gave messages still important to remember to this day.

This painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner has many great aspects visually that make it one great piece of art work. The painting is of a old black man that may be a former slave is teaching a young black child how to play the banjo, an instrument from the African culture. (banjo) It almost gives a feel that the young child is the older gentleman’s grandson. They are sitting on a chair and the young child is sitting in his lap looking at the banjo. The older black man is also looking at the banjo. The older black man is holding the child on his knee, almost to keep him from becoming unbalanced and falling. The black man is supporting the child on his knee. The black man has one hand on the banjo and one hand near his knee. The child has both hands on the banjo and seems very concentrated on what he is trying to learn. It shows a point in time when a grandfather is teaching his grandson how to play the banjo.

The setting that these two people are in is a room setting. There are pots and pans on the floor and a coat rack in the corner. It seems to be just a small room, but the two people in the painting don’t even seem to recognize what surrounds them. They are so enticed by the banjo to really care about their surroundings at the time. The room looks very rugged, with not much detail put into it for it is not as important or the focal point of the painting. The focal point is the boy and the older gentlemen sitting in the middle of the room on a wooden chair. The colors contrast in this painting to make them almost glow in the colors Tanner uses. Tanner takes on the challenge of making it as realistic as possible. He has two separate light sources. A natural white, blue glow from outside enters from the left while the warm light from a fireplace on the right. The figures are illuminated where the two light sources meet. It seems to be a transition between the world that the two people live compared to the world that they would like to live in. A world where there is no bad, evil people. A fair just world. The lighting makes time stop almost so they can continue their banjo time and be in that world for just a moment of their lives and forget about all that has happened to them in the past, and try not to think what will happen to them in the future.

This painting uses color schemes to draw your attention to the message he is trying to get across. In this painting, he is trying to focus on the little boy and the older gentlemen. It has a warmer composition and uses gentle colors to contrast a balance that do not leave the viewer in one place on the painting yet, a viewer would know that the main point is the two people playing the banjo for they are almost illuminated by the light that Tanner uses. There are strong contrasting colors of the dark skin people against a pale background to create an emphasis on the main part of the painting, which is the child and the man. The dark tones bring the focal point of the painting alive and give it an luminosity at that point to make it more special.

This luminosity gives the painting of calm and tranquil setting. There seems to be no disturbance, and everything is just standing still at this special moment between this child and man. The lighting in the room creates a...
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