Daniel in the Lions' Den

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Daniel in the Lions' Den

United States, 1907-1918
Paintings
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
41 1/8 x 49 7/8 in. (104.46 x 126.8 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection (22.6.3)
Currently on public view:
Art of the Americas Building, floor 3 MAP IT
Art of the Americas Building, floor 3

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Curator Notes

Tanner first achieved recognition at the Paris Salon of 1896 with his painting Daniel in the Lions’ Den....
Tanner first achieved recognition at the Paris Salon of 1896 with his painting Daniel in the Lions’ Den. Although the museum’s painting of the same title has been often mistaken for the painting shown in the 1896 Salon, it is a similar, but later version. In both paintings Tanner delineated an Old Testament story set during the reign of King Darius in ancient Persia (Dan. 6:16-24). Tanner infused the drama of Daniel’s unjust imprisonment with a quiet spirituality. The earlier canvas was Tanner’s first major religious painting and indicated the direction that his art would take. The choice of a religious subject may have been inspired initially by his teacher Laurens, who was noted for dramatic biblical paintings. Tanner’s depiction of a dark prison cell, dramatically lit by evening light streaming through a high window, may have also come from Laurens, whose Le Grand Inquisiteur chez les rois catholiques, 1886 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) -- a painting also about an unjust imprisonment -- is similar in composition and lighting. It is probably not coincidental that Tanner owned a reproduction of the Laurens painting and kept it throughout his career (it is among the Tanner Papers). The decision to select a narrative in which animals play a major role may have been determined by Tanner’s previous success with animal paintings; he had sold Lions at Home, by 1885 (unlocated), when it was exhibited in 1885 at the National Academy of Design. When he decided to paint this subject he prepared himself by sketching the lions at the Jardins des Plants and by studying with the noted animalier Emmanuel Frémiet. Tanner often painted variations on the same theme. The museum’s version was probably executed in the years before the First World War, possibly as early as 1907. Tanner exhibited a painting entitled Daniel in the Lions’ Den at the annual of the Pennsylvania Academy in 1896-97, at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in Saint Louis, his 1908 show at the American Art Galleries in New York, and the Anglo-American Exposition in London in 1914. It was probably the second version that was exhibited in the last two, however, none of the descriptions in the reviews of any of these exhibitions is specific enough for determining which version was shown. Although the museum’s painting is on paper, it probably was not intended as a sketch but as an independent, second version. (In 1976 the canvas used to back the museum’s painting was found to have on it an unfinished oil possibly illustrating a scene from the life of Job and able to be dated on stylistic grounds to the late 1890s or early years of the 1900s.) The museum’s painting is a recapitulation of the scene as Tanner depicted it in his 1896 Salon painting, but he changed the format and modified details. The earlier Daniel in the Lions’ Den was a vertical painting in which half the composition was taken up by the shadowy, high-ceilinged structure above the head of Daniel. In the second version, Tanner eliminated the ceiling to focus more on the figure. Both paintings emphasized shadows, with a brilliant light illuminating the lower half of Daniel’s figure, especially his bound hands. While the shape and size of the illuminated area were altered in the second version -- to show more of the prisoner’s figure -- the change was not significant. The first version included an elaborate Assyrian frieze. Although such details were in keeping with the late nineteenth-century academic taste for archaeological accuracy and narration, they did not accord with Tanner’s mature painting style. During the first decade of this century Tanner developed a poetic style in which he used color and light to evoke the essence of a religious story. In the museum’s painting Daniel appears calm, strengthened by his inner spiritual belief, and Tanner’s use of a bluegreen palette heightened this meditative mood. Experiments with pigments and glazing begun around 1907 enabled him to infuse his art with a soft, glowing light and shimmering color. While the overall color scheme of Daniel in the Lions’ Den is tonal -- typical of Tanner’s mature canvases -- the painting actually is much more varied in color than it initially appears, for the lions are sketched in brilliant shades of yellow, green, and lavender.
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About The Era

After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris....
After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris. By the late nineteenth century the Paris Salon was the most important exhibition space in the Western world. Artists from many nations would submit their best works to its annual exhibition. The honor of being accepted presaged an artist’s future success. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper were presented at each Salon; the exhibition halls were so crowded that paintings were hung to the ceiling with sculptures scattered about. To be hung “on the line” (at eye level) meant a work of art ranked among the best in the show. Since a painting might be skied (hung near the ceiling), many artists painted on a large scale to ensure that their work could be seen no matter where it was placed.
Contrary to earlier periods, American painting in the late 1800s was no longer dominated by a single aesthetic. Munich-school paintings—narrative scenes, often based on literature or history and painted in a dark palette—as well as small figure paintings in the realist tradition were popular in both France and the United States. Large portraits represent the academic style that dominated official taste during this era. Bright, sun-drenched scenes by a more progressive group of artists, the impressionists are diametrically opposite in color, mood, and concept to muted tonalist and symbolist works. Whereas the impressionists celebrated contemporary life with all its transformations, the tonalists and symbolists created hazily illuminated, dreamlike imagery.
Sculptures range from academic examples of idealized mythological imagery to expressions of the newer interest in the emotive potential of the human form. Equestrian bronzes by Frederic Remington demonstrate that at the turn of the century there was a continuing enthusiasm for heroic depictions of the West despite the increased internationalism of American taste.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Hoopes, Donelson F.  American Narrative Painting.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1974.
  • Driskell, David C. and Leonard Simon.  Two Centuries of Black American Art.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976.
  • About the Era.
  • Hoopes, Donelson F.  American Narrative Painting.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1974.
  • Driskell, David C. and Leonard Simon.  Two Centuries of Black American Art.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
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Exhibition history

  • Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750-1950 Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, September 28, 1976 - November 12, 1976