Spinning By Firelight--The Boyhood of George Washington Gray Artist: Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859–1937)


American Paintings and Sculpture

On view, 2nd floor, American Art before 1900

Seeing Henry Ossawa Tanner’s paintings at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, Booker T. Washington wrote,

Few people ever stopped . . . when looking at his pictures, to inquire whether Mr. Tanner was a Negro painter, a French painter, a German painter. They simply knew that he was able to produce . . . a great painting—and the matter of his color did not enter into their minds.

Raised in Philadelphia by parents who were activists for African American advancement, Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy under Thomas Eakins, and the two remained lifelong friends. In 1891, to escape racial prejudice, Tanner settled permanently in Paris and soon acquired an international reputation. He returned to the United States briefly in 1893, staying as a guest at the home of the Tanner family friend and abolitionist minister, educator, and social reformer George Washington Gray. Shortly thereafter, Tanner created this vision of Gray’s Ohio boyhood.


Oil on canvas


46 1/2 × 66 1/2 × 1 in. (118.1 × 168.9 × 2.5 cm)

Credit Line

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Fund

Accession Number



19th century


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



George Washington Gray (1831–1902), Evanston, Ill., 1894; by descent in the Gray family; Arthur J. Phelan, Jr., and associates, Chevy Chase, Maryland, 1989; sold to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1996
  • American Art: Selections from the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2023), 178–79, no. 79, ill
  • Brian Baade et al., Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, ed. Anna O. Marley, exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2012), 189, fig. 23
  • Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 21–22, 148–49, no. 86, ill
  • Amy Kurtz Lansing, "'Look Well to the Ways of the Household, and Eat Not the Bread of Idleness': Individual, Family, and Community in Henry Ossawa Tanner's 'Spinning by Firelight—The Boyhood of George Washington Gray'," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1997–98), 52, ill. back cover, fig. 1
  • "Acquisitions, January 1996–December 1997," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1997–98), 99
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

figures (representations), human figures (visual works), portraits


Signed and dated lower right "H.O. Tanner / 1894"

Technical metadata and APIs


Open in Mirador

View IIIF manifest

The International Image Interoperability Framework, or IIIF, is an open standard for delivering high-quality, attributed digital objects online at scale. Visit iiif.io to learn more

Linked Art

API response for this object

Linked Art is a Community working together to create a shared Model based on Linked Open Data to describe Art.