Flight Into Egypt

Henry Ossawa Tanner American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 766

This evocative "Flight into Egypt" is a mature work by Tanner, the leading early 20th-century African American artist who studied in Paris and resided in France—largely due to the systemic racism he encountered in the United States. As he declared in 1891, the year of his departure for Europe: "I cannot fight prejudice and paint at the same time." Having begun his career painting moving images of African American life, by the mid-1890s he had shifted to more universal biblical themes familiar from his childhood; his father, Benjamin Tanner, was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. To represent these stories, the artist developed an increasingly painterly, highly personal style based on direct observation and imagination. The subject of this work, which he depicted frequently, represents the Holy Family's escape from King Herod's assassins (Matthew 2:12–14). In personal terms, it conveyed Tanner’s sensitivity to issues of personal freedom and mobility, perhaps including the Great Migration of African Americans from the South after World War I.

On the back of this canvas is a study for Tanner’s prizewinning "Christ at the Home of Lazarus", painted around 1912 and now known only from photographs

#4594. Flight Into Egypt

Flight Into Egypt, Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1859–1937 Paris), Oil on canvas, American

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