Henry Ossawa Tanner  The Thankful Poor

Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Thankful Poor


Quiet and domestic, the scene depicted in The Thankful Poor suggests a spiritual moment between a young boy and an elderly man. Artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, born to a religious family, often channeled this sense of piety in his paintings over the span of his career. Later recognized for his biblical paintings, Tanner first produced genre scenes of Black American life near the turn of the 20th century. The Thankful Poor is the last known of these works.

The decision to depict Black daily life became clear to the artist during his studies between Paris and Philadelphia, where he was academically trained. While Black subjects appeared in the works of white American artists, such as Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins, Tanner distinctly prioritized the humanity of his figures. In The Thankful Poor, the artist accomplishes this by transforming a moment of prayer into a complex exchange of intergenerational kinship. Spiritual values are often tied to familial relations and this focus speaks to Tanner’s personal experiences within the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of which his father was a pastor.


Henry Ossawa Tanner


35 1/2 × 44 1/4 in. (90.2 × 112.4 cm)

Credit Line

Art Bridges




Oil on canvas

Object Number



l.l.: H.O. TANNER / 1894 / The Thankful Poor


John Thompson Morris [1847-1915], Philadelphia, PA; by bequest to Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, 1915; to (Sotheby’s New York, NY), December 10, 1981; purchased by Camille O. Cosby [b. 1944], 1981; to (M. Hanks Gallery, Fullerton, CA); purchased by Art Bridges, TX, 2020


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