Life and career
Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Benjamin Tucker, a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Sarah Miller Tanner, a private school teacher. Tanner was the oldest of nine children. In 1864, Tanner and his family moved to Philadelphia, where his artistic interests developed. At the age of thirteen, Tanner decided to become an artist when he saw a painter in Fairmount Park near his home. Initially self taught, Tanner began to draw constantly in his free time and also tried to observe other artists' work in art galleries in Philadelphia. In 1879, Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and studied under Thomas Eakins, remaining a student there until 1885.
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