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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 20th century: Moses in the Bullrushes
Moses in the Bullrushes

Moses in the Bullrushes
Henry Ossawa Tanner
oil on wood panel
22 3/8 x 15 1/8 in. (56.8 x 38.5 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Robbins


Henry Ossawa Tanner took most of his themes from the New Testament, but also made several paintings of the story of Moses. The mother of Moses had set her infant son adrift in the Nile in a basket of reeds so that Pharaoh’s soldiers would not slay the Hebrew child. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby, who was raised in the palace until Moses rejected his royal position and led his people to freedom. The muted blues capture the nighttime scene, where the moonlight reflecting on the water may signify God’s presence.

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