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Joseph Henry Sharp

Born 1859. Died 1953.
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Joseph Henry Sharp Biography

Known for his portrayal of Native American life and landscapes of the American Southwest, American painter and historian Joseph Henry Sharp was a leading figure of the Taos Society of Artists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During his long, prolific career, he rose to prominence as a well-respected artist and obtained significant commissions. He was committed to documenting the way of life of Native American tribes that he lamented was dying; his particular Realist style lent itself to an ethnographic study of his work in addition to its art historical influence.

Born in Bridgeport, Ohio in 1859, Sharp exhibited a fascination with Native American life from a young age. He nearly drowned while swimming as a young boy, which gravely impacted his hearing, and which led to him eventually becoming deaf. As a result, he did not receive a consistent formal education, exacerbated by his father’s death which forced him to begin working in a nail factory as a child. He briefly studied at the McMicken School of design, the Cincinnati Art Academy, the Royal Academies of Fine Arts in Antwerp and Munich and Académie Julian in Paris during brief stays in Europe in the early 1880s. He documented his travels across the American West in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Wyoming, where he began sketching the Ute, Pueblo, and Umatilla tribes. He approached these works with a particular accuracy in order to preserve images of a neglected subject. President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Sharp for 200 portraits of Native American warriors who had survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He evolved his style over time, and permanently moved to Taos where he began painting en plein air to capture the particular light of the Southwest. By the end of his ninety-three years, Sharp produced over 10,000 paintings and sketches, of which seventy five percent are of Native American subjects.

In addition to President Roosevelt, Sharp secured patronage with major figures of the time, including industrialist Joseph Butler, the Smithsonian Institute and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Philanthropist Thomas Gilcrease purchased many of Sharp’s paintings and personal collection of Native American memorabilia when the artist was eighty-six; the Gilcrease Institute houses the majority of Sharp’s oeuvre today.

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