Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the nation’s most celebrated artists, happened to be a great painter of lions, a skill honed when the young art student was repeatedly dispatched to sketch at the Philadelphia Zoo by one of his most exacting teachers, Thomas Eakins.
Several Tanner lions can be seen in museums around the country, and now the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has acquired its own, completed when Tanner was a student there.
His Pomp at the Philadelphia Zoo, done around 1880, shows Pomp the lion, a big, sad cat with a ruminative expression. It was purchased from a private collection and is one of 39 recently acquired works to enter the academy’s permanent collection, PAFA has announced.
The academy has also acquired a wax profile portrait of George Washington attributed to Patience Lovell Wright.
PAFA characterizes Wright as “the Revolutionary era predecessor to Madame Tussaud” for her pioneering work making wax figures of the celebrated and exhibiting them in museum-like settings, first in New York and then in London.
Abigail Adams, encountering the indecorous and tart-tongued Wright, was more blunt in describing the artist. She was, Adams wrote in a letter home from London, “the queen of sluts.”
The profile of Washington, done around 1784-86 and attributed to Wright, is now the earliest known work by an American woman artist in PAFA’s collection.
Of the 39 works being added to the permanent collection in this group of acquisitions, 30 are by women, continuing PAFA’s effort to add women artists and artists of color to its permanent collection.
In addition to Tanner, works by several artists of color are sprinkled through the acquisitions.
“On a daily basis, the museum at PAFA simultaneously looks both to our history and our future,” said museum director Brooke Davis Anderson in a statement. “We have demonstrated that holistic mission by acquiring work by Henry O. Tanner, an artist who studied at PAFA and the first African American painter to receive international acclaim; a gorgeous work by African American artist Louis Sloan, a revered professor at PAFA from 1962 to 1997, who painted a lovely self-portrait in a field of flowers under a blue sky; and a new work by Doron Langberg, a young PAFA-educated painter who recently had a solo show in New York City at Yossi Milo Gallery.”
In speaking about the Tanner, Anna O. Marley, PAFA curator of historical American art, said, “Pomp is the best.”
“This is the most wonderful, searing, emotional portrait of a lion,” she said. “He’s like a person.”
Marley said that Eakins, who taught Tanner, encouraged his students to study and sketch at the Philadelphia Zoo, and Tanner returned again and again. Pomp, she said, is “the PAFA collection’s first painting by Tanner to have been created while the artist was living in Philadelphia.”
Pomp at the Philadelphia Zoo should be on view at the academy at the same time as “Awakened in You" — a collection of Dr. Constance E. Clayton, the first African American and female superintendent of Philadelphia schools — which opens on Feb. 21, Marley said.
In addition to the works by Tanner, Wright, and Langberg, PAFA announced the acquisition of The Coast of Cornwall, a 1914 oil on linen by Walter Elmer Schofield; Carousel Horse, a 1914 painted carved-wood figure by Daniel Carl Müller; Many Hands Red, a 1996 monoprint by Nancy Azara; and Winter Shoveling Out, a c. 1950 gouache on paper by Lucille Corcos.
In addition, PAFA acquired Nebraska Gifford’s Stormy Moo, a 1991 woodcut; Hildegarde Haas’ 1998 woodcuts, Still Life and Winding River; Riva Helfond’s 1952 watercolor, Maine; Helen Hyde’s Jalapa, Feb. 17, 1912, pastel over graphite; China Marks’ Hope and Despair Greet the New Century, a 1990 lithograph with chine collé and sculptural attachments; and a 1937 untitled lithograph by Agnes Tait.
PAFA also acquired two undated oil portraits by Harry Kidd, Professor Louis W. Flaccus -- Philosopher and Laura Flaccus; Minerva Cuevas’ 2016 The End, oil on canvas dipped in chapopote; Robert Barnes’ 1958 oil portrait of James Joyce; Deborah Oropallo’s 1988 oil, Steps; Julie Heffernan’s 1997 oil, Self-Portrait Under Water; 17 prints by June Wayne executed between 1950 and 2006; and Danny Simmons’ Deep Desire, a 2018 digital pigment serigraph.