Compare & Contrast Essay: Henry Ossawa Tanner's "The Banjo Lesson"

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The artwork I chose is the painting “The Banjo Lesson” by Henry Ossawa Tanner on page 337 of our textbook. This painting portrays a man giving a young male child a lesson of playing the banjo. The little boy is sitting on the man’s lap in a chair while the man shows him where to position his hands and fingers to play. The painting was done in 1893, and the way people lived during that period can be seen in the painting. The room looks to be dimly lit by a candle or fire on the right side and natural lighting on the left side. While old pots and pans cover the floor and table in the background, everything in the room is made to be centered around the man and boy. Henry uses darker colors and smooth brushstrokes to give the painting a very warm, easy feeling. There are many different shapes present, so no real uniformity is shown throughout. As previously mention, the man and child are the focal point of the painting. Mr. Tanner makes this possible by painting them with more defined lines than the objects surrounding them. The objects in the rear of the scene, such as the paintings on the wall, are barely visible as to not take the focus from the banjo lesson being given. If there is any movement trying to be conveying in the painting, it is the tender touch of the man with the child on the banjo. I also get the sense of a gentle flicker from the light source on the right side of the painting. That light becomes dimmer toward the left side of the painting where the natural light takes over. Again, the dim lighting, sense of family between the man and child, darker colors, and lack of movement give the painting a very warm feeling. Like the man and child in the painting, Henry Ossawa Tanner was also an African American. He made this painting during a time in America where African Americans were still oppressed. At the time there were also many other paintings showing African Americans playing banjos, but portraying them more as entertainers....
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