About This Artwork

Henry Ossawa Tanner
American, 1859–1937

The Two Disciples at the Tomb, c. 1906

Oil on canvas
129.5 x 105.7 cm (51 x 41 7/8 in.)
Signed, lower left: "H.O. Tanner"

Robert A. Waller Fund, 1906.300

The son of a prominent minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Henry Ossawa Tanner was perhaps the most renowned American painter of religious works at the turn of the 20th century. After studying with realist Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Tanner expatriated to France in 1891, hoping to escape the racism that limited his career in the United States. Painted in his Parisian studio, The Two Disciples at the Tomb depicts a scene from the Gospel of Saint John in which Peter and John arrive at Christ’s tomb, only to find it empty. The bearded Peter looks downward with a somber gaze, but John appears transfixed, his angular face bathed in a golden light that signifies the presence of Christ’s spirit. Like Tanner’s other religious paintings, this work focuses on the individual’s response to a miraculous event.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Chicago, McCormick Place, "Century of Negro Progress," August 16-September 2, 1963.

Washington D.C. Howard University, "Ten Afro-American Artists of the Nineteenth Century, February 3-March 30, 1967.

New York, Grand Central Art Galleries, Henry Ossawa Tanner exhibition, November 16-December 7, 1967.

Atlanta, Spelman College, "Henry O. Tanner, An Afro-American Romantic Realist," March 30-April 30, 1969, cat. 7.

Berkeley, University of California Art Museum, "The Hand and the Spirit: Religious Art in America 1770-1900," June 27-August 6, 1972; traveled to Washington D.C. National Gallery, September-October 1972; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, December 10, 1972-January 14, 1973; Indianapolis Museum of Art, February-April 1973.

New York, Metropolitan Museum, "Selections of nineteenth Century Afro-American Art," June 18-August 1, 1976.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Two Centuries of Black American Art," September 30-November 21, 1976; traveled to High Museum of Art, January 8-February 20, 1977; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, March 30-May 15, 1977; Brooklyn Museum of Art, June 25-August 21, 1977, cat. 54.

New York, Whitney Museum, "Turn-of-the-Century America," June 30-October 2, 1977; traveled to St. Louis Art Museum, December 1, 1977-January 21, 1978; Seattle Art Museum, February 2-March 12, 1978; Oakland Museum of Art, April 4-May 28-1978, cat. 22.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, "Henry Ossawa Tanner," January 20-April 14, 1991; traveled to Detroit Institute of Arts, May 12-August 4, 1991; Atlanta, High Museum of Art, September 17-November 24, 1991; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, December 14, 1991-March 1, 1992.

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, "Across Continents and Cultures: the Art and Life of Henry Ossawa Tanner," June 25-August 20, 1995; traveled to Dallas Museum of Art, September 12-December 31, 1995; Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, January 12-May 5, 1996.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, "Henry O. Tanner: Modern Spirit," January 27-April 15, 2012; traveled to Cincinnati Art Museum, May 26-September 9, 2012; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 21, 2012-January 13, 2013.

Publication History

Andrea D. Barnwell and Kirsten P. Buick, “A Portfolio of Works by African American Artists Continuing the Dialogue: A Work in Progress,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), p. 186.

Andrew J. Walker, “Portfolio,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), p. 190, no. 2.

Susan F. Rossen, “Introduction,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 24, 2 (1999), p. 141.

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 90.

View mobile website