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Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1885. Oil on canvas, 30 x 59 inches.

When Henry Ossawa Tanner's "Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City" was added to the White House art collection in 1996, it was celebrated for the excellence of the work and the character of its artist. The landscape was also the first painting created by an African American to be part of the permanent White House collection. Tanner (1859-1937) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother was a former slave who escaped to freedom on the Underground Railroad and his father was a minister. He studied under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Tanner spent over half of his life in France, where he found people to be more accepting of the idea that a black man might also be a great artist. Still, as shown in his painting of the sunset along the New Jersey shore, America was never far from his mind.

Sand Dunes is constructed with a bold sweep of windblown beach bordered by rising dunes. Remarkably, where sand is depicted, the artist actually mixed sand into his pigments to emulate the texture. The viewpoint is that of an isolated stroller on the lonely strand, walking in the shallow trough toward the water's edge. In the scrubby vegetation, Tanner captures exactly the permanently wind-bent attitude of the hardy clumps of sea grass that rhythmically stud the sand. The sun tinges the sky with a rosy glow, and the moon rises through the haze of approaching evening."

Gift of the White House Historical Association/The White House Endowment Fund.

Henry Ossawa Tanner
Date of Work
The White House Historical Association (White House Collection)