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 Joseph Henry Sharp  (1859 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/California/Ohio      Known for: Indian figure, landscape and still-life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Bridgeport, Ohio, Joseph Sharp was regarded as the "father of the Taos Art Colony," and was known for his Indian figure and genre painting as well as for exquisitely colorful landscapes.

He was one of the first Caucasian artists to visit New Mexico, arriving in Santa Fe in 1883.  He was also a visitor to Alaska, being one of the early artists who visited there after the purchase of the Territory.  Although Sharp was completely deaf from a childhood accident, he reportedly had a cheerful nature and was an avid traveler, always seeking learning experiences about other cultures.

From childhood he was interested in Indians, and at age fourteen, because of his deafness, left public school to study art in Cincinnati at the McMicken School and the Cincinnati Academy of Art.  His studio was in the same building as that of Henry Farny who gave him books on Pueblo Indians.

At age 22, Sharp went to Antwerp, Belgium where he studied with Charles Verlat, and two years later he began traveling the American West, going first on a sketching trip that included Santa Fe, places in California, and north to the Columbia River.  He did numerous paintings of Indian figures to record their disappearing culture.

In 1886, he returned to Europe for more study and enrolled at the Academy in Munich with Karl Von Marr.  He also traveled with Frank Duveneck, famous Cincinnati artist, through Spain and Italy.  From 1892 to 1902, he taught classes at the Cincinnati Art Academy, and from 1895 to 1896, attended the Academie Julian in Paris where he met Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Geer Phillips, who later joined him in Taos.

In 1893, Joseph Sharp first went to Taos, and his sketches from that trip were published in Harper's Weekly.  He began making summer trips West to sketch Indians, and in 1902, he painted in Arizona, California, Wyoming, and Montana.

An admiring President Teddy Roosevelt had a studio built for Sharp at the Custer Battle Field site.  From there Sharp traveled throughout the Plains to paint about 200 portraits of living Indians who had been in that battle.  To achieve these paintings, he endured much severe weather and physical hardship.

By 1912, Sharp was a permanent resident of Taos, living across from Kit Carson's homesite and painting many of the Pueblo Indians in their daily activities.  His longtime close friend and model was Jerry (Elk Foot) Mirabal, who, dying in 1980, lived to be 110.  Sharp continued to travel, going frequently to Hawaii and California during the winters where he completed numerous floral landscapes.

He also stayed in close touch with his hometown of Cincinnati, where he relied upon friends in the Cincinnati Art Museum for canvas and certain types of paint, and in December, 1915, he held the first of fifteen annual Christmas exhibitions there.

He died in Pasadena on August 29, 1953.

His Indian paintings are prized for their detailed accuracy, and many of them are in the collection of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sources include:
Dean Porter, Taos Artists and Their Patrons
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Bridgeport, OH on Sept. 27, 1859, Joseph Henry Sharp was raised in Ironton and Cincinnati.  He began art studies at the Cincinnati Art Academy at age 14.  In 1882 he was a pupil of Charles Verlat in Antwerp; the following year he made his first trip to the West to sketch the Indian tribes of New Mexico, California, and the Columbia River.

In 1886 he again was in Europe accompanied by Frank Duveneck.  While in Munich, he was a pupil of Karl Marr and had further study with Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant in Paris.

Sharp taught at the Cincinnati Art Academy from 1892 until 1902, and then resigned to devote full time to painting.  Summers were spent in Montana at Crow Agency in a cabin and studio at the foot of the Custer Battlefield.

As well as a home in Pasadena, he also had a studio in Taos, NM which was opposite Kit Carson's old home.  During the 1930s he made several painting trips to Hawaii.

Sharp died in Pasadena, CA on Aug. 29, 1953.

Eleven of his paintings of famous Indians were purchased by the U.S. Government in 1900 and now hang in the Smithsonian Institution. A collection of 80 Indian portraits and pictures were purchased by Phoebe Hearst in 1902 for UC Berkeley.

Memberships:
Cincinnati Art Club; Prairie Printmakers Club of Los Angeles; Salmagundi Club; American Fine Art Association; Southwest Society of Artists; Taos Society of Artists; California Art Club.

Exhibitions:
Pan-American Expo (Buffalo), 1901 (silver medal); Cincinnati Art Club, 1901 (1st prize); Panama-California Expo (San Diego), 1915 (gold medal); Southwest Expo (Long Beach), 1928; California Artists, Pasadena Art Institute 1930 (1st prize).

Museum Collections:
Houston Museum; Orange Co. (CA) Museum; Butler Museum (Youngstown, OH); Southwest Museum (LA); Museum of NM (Santa Fe); Cincinnati Museum; Herron Art Inst. (Indianapolis).
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1919-33; Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Who's Who in California 1929; Who's Who in American Art 1936-47; Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Artists of the American West (Samuels); Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); Artists and Illustrators of the Old West (Robert Taft).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Joseph Henry Sharp is widely considered to have been the "Spiritual Father" of the Taos Society of Artists. He was the first painter to visit New Mexico, before Phillips and Blumenschein made their historic wagon trip. He left behind a vast cultural record of Native American life, landscapes, and portraiture. His work is often referred to as poetic, and is steeped in deep nostalgia that he felt all his life for the vanishing culture of the American Indian and the old west.

Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio on September 27, 1859 to Irish parents. His father was a local merchant. From his earliest days, Sharp was fascinated by anything he could learn about the American Indians. This interest did not extend, apparently, to anything taught in school. The young Joseph Henry was more interested in drawing, fishing and swimming, the latter of which almost killed him - he nearly drowned once in an incident in a river. Sharp was pulled out of the water by friends who thought he had died. However, after being carried home he was resuscitated by a determined mother. Unfortunately, Sharp would never completely recover from his accident. His hearing was damaged and would continue to deteriorate rapidly, eventually leaving him utterly deaf. At this early age, Sharp's indomitable spirit was already manifest, as he never for a moment let his handicap hold him back. He learned to read lips and began to carry a pad and pencil with him wherever he went, never once losing his optimistic outlook on life. It was around this time that he began to realize that he had a natural facility for drawing, and he sketched often in the outdoors.

When Sharp was 12, his father died, leaving the family with almoJ. H. Sharp, Leaf Down, Oil, 16" x 20"st no income. Though still in school (just barely), Sharp went to work in a nail mill and copper shop, giving his earnings to his mother. Two years later, his continued hearing loss had rendered school impossible, and so he quit school entirely and moved to Cincinnati, where he lived with his aunt. At 14, he worked and supported himself entirely, still sent money to his mother, and managed to have enough to enroll in art classes at Mickmicken University in Cincinnati. In the late 19th century, studying in Europe was still considered compulsory for any aspiring artist, and after 8 years of working, and studying when he could, Sharp had saved enough extra money to travel to Europe, and spent two years at the Antwerp Academy studying in the realist tradition; history painting and portraiture.

Sharp's first trip to the West was in 1883 at age 24. He visited pueblos in New Mexico (though not Taos), Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Tucson, and then took a boat up the West Coast and disembarked in the Washington Territory. In the northwest he encountered natives from numerous tribes, and the sketches he did on that trip would be the basis for his first Native American portraits. His love of the West notwithstanding, Sharp seemed to feel that his studies were never really over, and he again set off to Europe. He went to Germany, Italy, but spent most of his time in Spain, studying the Spanish masters El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya.

Back in Cincinnati, Sharp married in 1892, and finally visited Taos for the first time in 1893, on a commission from Harper’s Weekly. He was captivated by the then unspoilt life of the natives in Taos. The pictures he completed for the commission were very well received, and led to further illustration work with numerous publications. In spite of this success, Sharp still felt that his education was incomplete, and he went to Paris for two years of further study. It was in a class in Paris that he first met Burt Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein. He regaled his new friends with stories of the West, and showed them several of his drawings. Sharp’s words and pictures worked a spell on the pair, and they became determined to make their own trip west, which they would in 1898. He also separately met E.I. Couse in Paris, and had a stimulating effect on that young painter as well.

However, when he returned to the U.S. Sharp did not go back to the pueblos of New Mexico right away. He taught in Cincinnati, worked as an illustrator, and spent time in Montana, camping on the battlefield of Little Big Horn, becoming acquainted with and painting portraits of Plains Indians. In 1900, an exhibition of these portraits would travel to Paris and to Washington D.C., and would prove to be a turning point in his career. The Smithsonian Institution purchased 11 portraits, and President Roosevelt took an interest in Sharp’s work. Roosevelt had the Indian Commission build and furnish a cabin and studio for Sharp. Sharp had it constructed at Little Big Horn, at the intersection of two rivers. Two years later, Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst), bought 80 paintings from Sharp all at once. Suddenly Sharp was financially independent, and could quit teaching and illustrating to devote himself to painting full-time.

While working in Montana, Sharp began amassing a huge personal collection of Native American artifacts and costume. It was important to him that these things be preserved and understood, and that he was closely connected to and had a thorough understanding of his subject matter. He even made sure that he got to know all of his portrait subjects personally. In this way he was as much an anthropologist as a painter.

Once he was independent and could paint freely, Sharp's output was enormous. He had been a hard worked ever since he had to support himself at 14, and this attribute never left him. He sometimes completed hundreds of paintings in a year. The Northern Plains Indians remained the focus of these efforts for a long time. Sharp felt that his attention belonged there, rather than the pueblos, because he saw the Plains Indians and their way of life dwindling much faster. He knew that Taos would still be there in 10 years.

He began to spend some summers in New Mexico, and in 1909 purchased an old Penitente chapel to use as a studio. The Penitente sect was one that believed in self-flagellation (whipping oneself) as a means of atonement, and apparently the chapel still had bloodstains on the rafters when Sharp moved in. In 1912 Sharp finally relocated to Taos permanently, and was a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists, formed that same year. He worked and exhibited with the group for many years, and by all accounts was widely loved and respected. He had a reputation as being friendly, witty, and patient. An interesting note about his first years in Taos is that he painted several pictures of Plains Indians there, using locals as models with costume from his own collection. It is interesting to see a portrait of an Indian with hair braided in the Taos style, wearing plains garb and a scowl. The scowl being a reflection of how the subject felt about being coerced into wearing the regalia of another tribe.

Those portraits aside, Sharp threw himself into recording the environment and life of the pueblo. He generally sketched outdoors, and completed paintings in his studio. He continued to enjoy critical, as well as financial success, which allowed him to continue his already extensive travels. He spent years in Spain, went to Africa twice, to South America, and even to Japan and China. He also spent several winters in Hawaii before World War II. In the 1920's he bought a winter home in Pasadena, California, and there worked at landscapes and floral paintings.

In 1949, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, mounted a retrospective of Sharp's paintings, and still holds the largest collection in the world of the artist's work. At age 93, Joseph Henry Sharp closed his studio in Taos. He intended to return the following year but fell ill, and died in August 1953 in Pasadena. He left behind thousands of paintings, an unparalleled visual record of the Native American. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography neatly describes his work: "His paintings express a strange poetic note, rare sense of beauty, and rich tonal perception." Hardly is there a painter who could strive for more. But Sharp achieved something else: he was one of the West's most important historians, and America owes him a debt for it.

Bibliography

1. Bickerstaff, Laura M., Pioneer Artists of Taos, Old West Publishing Co., Denver, 1983.
2. Broder, Patricia Janis, Taos, A Painter's Dream, Little Brown, Boston, 1980.
3. Eldredge, Charles C., Art in New Mexico 1900-1945, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Abbeville Press, New York, 1986.
4. Luhan, Mabel Dodge, Taos and its Artists, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1947.
5. Witt, David L., The Taos Artists, A Historical Narrative and Biographical Dictionary, Ewell Fine Art Publications, Denver, 1984.

Biography from Douglas Frazer Fine Art, Ltd.:
The "father of the Taos art colony", Joseph Henry Sharp was a painter, illustrator, and teacher whose love affair with the American Southwest and its native people was vividly expressed in his art.  Born in Bridgeport, Ohio in 1859, Sharp was interested in Indians from boyhood.

He began his art studies as a boy at the McMicken School of Design after an accident caused him to lose his hearing at the age of 14.  He continued at the Cincinnati Art Academy, then at the age of 22 went to Antwerp to study with Charles Verlat.  Five years later he studied with Karl Marr at the Munich Academy, then with Frank Duveneck in Spain and Italy.  Finally, in the mid-1890s, he attended the Julian Academy in Paris with Laurens and Constant.

In the midst of his art education, Sharp traveled to the West on a sketching trip in 1893.  Though traveling to California and the Columbia River Basin, it was the Santa Fe area and its inhabitants that really captured his imagination.  These sketches were used as illustrations for Harper’s Weekly, along with his observations.  Ten years later, in 1893, Sharp returned to New Mexico, and "discovered" Taos.  At the time (from 1892-1902) he was teaching at the Cincinnati Art Academy, but Taos continued to draw him and he returned frequently during the summers both to that area and to the plains to paint his Native American subjects.

In 1901, Sharp was given a commission by the Crow Agency to build a studio in Montana near the battlefield where Custer fought and to "make a visual record of Indians who had fought against Custer."  Sharp’s response was over 200 portraits from live models and photographs of more than 400.

So realistically did he depict his subjects that Phoebe Hearst bought 80 works for the University of California’s anthropology department a year later.  These depictions were very different from Sharp’s tender portraits of Indian life in the pueblos near Taos.  He was concerned that the traditions of native culture were being eroded and this was often reflected in his romanticized depictions of every day life.  His first major exhibited work, held by the Cincinnati Art Museum and entitled "Harvest Dance", is an example.

He finally moved to Taos permanently in 1912, and started a campaign to get other artists to join him.  He is credited with starting a Taos school of painting, and was a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists since its inception in 1915.

In the 1930s Sharp went to Hawaii several times where he varied his routine by painting still lifes and seascapes. Late in life Sharp worked primarily in Pasadena where he had established a studio in 1910. He died there in 1953.

Sharp’s love of Native American Indians and his great talent at portraying them on canvas has led to a great body of work held in museums throughout the country, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Texas, Wyoming, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.  The Smithsonian Institution also has eleven of his Indian portraits.

Sources include: Who Was Who in American Art; Dawdy: Artists of the American West, vol. 1; Forbes: Encounters With Paradise; Gerdts: Art Across America; Hughes: Artists in California 1786-1940; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.

Written by Sarah Nelson

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
Throughout his life, Joseph Henry Sharp was dedicated to the arts.  His passion for painting seemed to have no limits as he captured the landscape and history of the West with a tremendous and impressive repertoire of paintings.

The son of a merchant, Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio.  He became interested in art at an early age. Though orphaned at 13 and deaf by late childhood, his indomitable spirit allowed him to pursue his artistic studies in Cincinnati and in Europe.  He became both technically proficient and, as many critics came to note, capable of portraying the humanity and spirit of his subjects.

A painting commission from Harper's Weekly followed an early trip to the West in 1892. Sharp marveled at the incredible landscapes, unique cultures, and vanishing ways of life.  While later studying in Paris, he regaled fellow students Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips with tales of Taos, directly influencing and inspiring their voyage west.

Sharp's accuracy in portraiture and attention to details make his work prized for its ethnographic authenticity and beauty alike. Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with his talents that he had his Indian Commission build Sharp a studio at the Crow Agency near Little Big Horn, Montana, in 1901.  Many of the portraits and scenes created there - over 200 - are now in public institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  He won the Gold Medal at the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, and was a member of Salmagundi Club, the Society of Western Artists and the Artists' Guild of Chicago.

Sharp spent summers in Taos from 1902 until his permanent move there in 1912. He became known for his Taos Indian portraits, genre scenes, and especially firelight themes.  He returned periodically throughout his life to the subject of indians gathered around a blazing fire, their shadows thrown back in high relief. The imagery ideally suited his deep interest in telling stories through his paintings - narratives portraying the lives of American Indians. Throughout his life, Sharp was inspired to create a faithful record of the changing Native American culture. For the next five decades, he created a vast body of work that has become integral in understanding the Taos experience.  Sharp's dedication to his work inspired the eventual creation of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915.  His bright, clear colors and incredible accuracy have left a memorable and vivid Southwest legacy.


Biography from Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers VI:
Joseph Sharp was the first member of the Taos Society of Artists to visit the region. Born in Ohio, he enrolled in art classes in Cincinnati, and in 1883, traveled to Santa Fe where he sketched the Indians and visited the local pueblos. He continued on to California and northward to the mouth of the Columbia before returning overland to Cincinnati.

Realizing that he needed further training as an artist, Sharp went to Germany and studied at the Munich Academy. By 1892, Sharp was back home working as an instructor in the life classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It was in this period that the artist met Henry Farny, who rekindled Sharp’s interest in the American Indian.

In the following year, he made his second trip west with fellow artist John Hauser, visiting Taos for the first time, on a commission to record the manners and customs of the Pueblo Indians. During a later period of academic study in Paris, Sharp conveyed his enthusiasm about New Mexico to three fellow painters named Ernest Blumenchein, Eanger Couse, and Bert Phillips. And it was Phillips who settled in Taos in 1898, thus inaugurating the art colony.

Before Sharp established himself as a painter in Taos, he achieved a national reputation as a painter of the Plains Indians. In 1899, he traveled to Montana, outfitted a wagon as a studio, which he nicknamed the “Prairie Dog,” and painted portraits and genre scenes of the Indians, particularly the Sioux, and Crow, who had figured in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Sharp’s painting were purchased by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt directed the Indian Commission to erect a cabin as a studio for the artist which was located south of the confluence of the two Bighorn rivers. From 1901 to 1916, Sharp spent his winters among the Indians, studying ever aspect of their appearance, traditions, and beliefs. He worked prodigiously and produced some major paintings that clearly demonstrated his technical brilliance. Landscapes bathed in vivid color; the lush reds and rich greens of the sky contrast with the resonant lavenders of the craggy mountains.

Sharp achieved his romantic light effects by utilizing a careful network of short criss-crossed strokes that blend, when viewed from afar, into a luminous whole.

ReSources include: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart, Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
JOSEPH HENRY SHARP (1859-1953)

From the time Joseph Henry Sharp was a small child, he had a fascination with the West. Through the Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper and seeing "the noble red man" at the Ohio Railway Station, Sharp developed a permanent interest in Indian culture. At the age of fourteen, an accident left him deaf and in his mother's cares. She became his teacher and encouraged him to develop his artistic talents. His mother was so confident of her son's growing talent that she submitted some of his drawings to the McMicken School of Design at the University of Cincinnati. So impressed were they by Sharp's talent, he was admitted into the school despite his young age.

Sharp was fully absorbed by his studies and inspired by his new surroundings. The art community was flourishing in Cincinnati and had drawn to it many great artists like Frank Duveneck, Robert Blum, Kenyon Cox, Edward Potthast, and Henry Farny. Farny was already using Indian subjects in his paintings and gained the immediate attention of Sharp. He tried to dissuade Sharp from going West by telling him of all its great dangers. This only served to fascinate the young artist and in the spring of 1883 he set off on his first journey west. He traveled and sketched Indian tribes in New Mexico, California, and the Northwest. Understanding that this was a disappearing culture, he made his studies as scientifically accurate as possible.


To further his training he made another trip to Europe in 1886. Sharp studied in Munich with Karl Marr and traveled to Italy and Spain with his good friend and Master Painter Frank Duveneck. Upon returning to Ohio in 1892 he taught painting for ten years at the Cincinnati Art Academy. Feeling the pressure and noise of a rapidly growing city, Sharp began making trips to the Southwest more frequently. Having spent consecutive summers sketching Indians, and winters completing the paintings, he decided to move to Taos. He is considered the "father of the Taos art colony" where he became a permanent resident in 1912.

His works are held by the Amon Carter Museum, Wyoming State Art Gallery, Bradford Brinton Memorial, Houston Museum of Fine Art, Museum of New Mexico, Cincinnati Art Museum, University of California, Smithsonian Institute, the Anschutz Collection and many other important private collections throughout the world.

Biography from The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction:
Joseph H. Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio. He saw his first Indians in Wheeling, West Virginia, just across the Ohio River. He took an instant interest in them even before he became an artist. Though completely deaf as a result of a childhood accident he never allowed it to handicap him. He was an avid traveller and a very prolific artist.

He attended the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati, and later the Cincinnati Art Academy. In 1881 he went to Europe, studying with Charles Verlat in Antwerp and on successive trips, with Carl Marr in Munich and Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens in Paris.

From 1892 to 1902 he taught the life class at the Cincinnati Art Academy during the winter, leaving his summers free for sketching trips which covered the entire West. Just prior to 1900, he went to the Sioux country in southeastern Montana. A year later, President Theodore Roosevelt had his Indian Commissioners build Sharp a studio and cabin at the Crow Agency on the old Custer battlefield. Sharp traveled throughout the Plains country doing hundreds of Indian paintings.

In 1902, Sharp began spending several months each year in Taos, painting the Pueblo Indians. In 1909 he acquired a permanent studio there and in 1912, became a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists. Sharp's faithful accuracy in depicting the differences between various tribes--in facial structures, costumes, artifacts and ceremonials--make his work as highly prized by anthropologists as by art lovers.

Nearly 100 of his paintings are owned by the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkley. Others are in the Bureau of Ethnology of the Smithsonian and in museums throughout the country.

Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
The Butler Institute of American Art has approximately 90 of Sharp's paintings including still lifes, a portrait of his mother and the original and the study of "Ration Day at the Reservation".

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Joseph Sharp is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
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