Henry Ossawa Tanner

Oil portrait with man in suit, dim green background

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  • Oil portrait with man in suit, dim green background




Hermann Dudley Murphy
American, 1867–1945

About this artwork

Hermann Dudley Murphy achieved success as both a painter and a frame designer in turn-of-the-century Boston. He first trained at the Boston Museum School in the 1880s and also worked as an illustrator before heading to Paris in 1891 to study at the Académie Julian, a studio that attracted a large contingent of American students. Returning to the Boston area in 1897, Murphy continued painting and exhibiting while expanding his professional activities to include teaching and frame making. Like others influenced by the Aesthetic movement, Murphy was concerned with the total work of art and taught himself to carve and gild frames. This interest led in 1903 to Carrig-Rohane, the frame shop he established with fellow artist Charles Prendergast.

Murphy painted this portrait of his friend and roommate Henry Ossawa Tanner during their student days in Paris. Although both received traditional artistic training at the city’s academies, they were particularly drawn to the modernist techniques of James McNeill Whistler. Murphy employed a thin, almost transparent application of paint and a muted palette of gray and green. The asymmetrical composition and colophon signature likewise evoke Whistler as well as a period interest in Japanese art. An African American and a Pennsylvania native, Tanner settled permanently in France; there, he encountered less discrimination and more professional opportunities, achieving international renown for religious paintings such as The Two Disciples at the Tomb. Henry Ossawa Tanner was widely exhibited after its completion in 1896. One of Murphy’s finest portraits, it entered the Art Institute’s collection directly from the artist’s own in 1924.

On View

American Art, Gallery 273


Hermann Dudley Murphy


Henry Ossawa Tanner


United States




Oil on canvas


Signed, lower left, with monogram Inscribed on reverse: "Hermann Dudley Murphy / 18 M 96 / Portrait of / Henry Ossawa Tanner / Salon of the / Champs de Mars 1896"


73 × 50.2 cm (28 3/4 × 19 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Friends of American Art Collection

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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