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70042: FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF A TEXAS FAMILY J
JOSEPH HENRY SHARP (American, 1859-1953)
Bawling Deer by Firelight, circa 1930
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Signed lower right: J.H. Sharp
Early in his career, Sharp had a studio in the same building as Henry Farny, another artist who devoted much of his career to painting American Indian tribes. Sharp shared Farny's interest in Native culture and as a young man had borrowed books on Indian life from the older artist. That early association with Farny may have well planted the seed in Sharp that led to his development as one of the most skilled and dedicated artists of Native American subjects of the early 20th century. Sharp, himself had a profound influence on many other artists who eventually found their way to Northern New Mexico. While studying in Paris, Sharp met fellow American art students Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, and piqued their interest in Southwestern native culture with his tales of his travels throughout the region. Having first visited Taos in 1893 for Harper's Weekly, Sharp's stories of that trip led Blumenschein and Phillips to undertake their famous trip to New Mexico in 1898. This adventure, complete with broken wagon wheel, resulted in Phillips relocating to Taos and the later establishment of the Taos Society of Artists. Sharp was a charter member of that group, which was formed the same year that he established his own residency in the village.
In Taos, Sharp's Indian portraits underwent a slow but distinct evolution. At first, he essentially continued to paint Northern Plains portraits by dressing his Taos Indian models in the clothing that he collected from his time on the Crow Agency. Most often these portraits evoked Northern Plains traditions by the inclusion of objects from the daily lives of such tribes as the Crow, Sioux, and Blackfeet. Gradually Sharp began to turn his attention away from his previous subjects to a focus on the life and culture that surrounded him. While he continued to rely on his collection of Plains material throughout his long career, he just as often produced portraits and paintings that showed the lives and customs of his Taos models as they truly lived. Those later paintings show few vestiges of Plains culture.
In Bawling Deer by Firelight, the subject sits before an unseen fire pensively holding a hide drum. The glow of the fire, itself excluded from the composition, bathes Bawling Deer in warm rays of crimson light. At his feet, a beaded tobacco pouch and Catlinite pipe have been cast aside. Sharp has captured the wistful gaze of the Taos Indian as he sits surrounded by these artifacts of the Plains tribes.
Also known as Frank Martinez, Bawling Deer has become an iconic representation of Sharp's extensive Indian portraiture. Counted among the ranks of such favorite models as Hunting Son and Elkfoot, Bawling Deer had already been sitting for Sharp as early as 1910. Based on the apparent age of the model, this work was executed in Taos around 1930. Bawling Deer's likeness appears in dozens of titled works done well into the late 1940s, his time with Sharp spanning nearly 40 years. In a poignant inscription found on another canvas, Daylight and Firelight, Sharp speaks endearingly of his friend and model "...One of the great hunters of Taos, a wonderful woodsman and trailer - catches trout with his bare hands and many other remarkable stunts of the experienced wood craftsman. Has been my model since a child, and now I am painting his son."
This painting maintains the artist's original carved gilt wood frame.
Alternate Artist Spellings: "Joseph Henry Sharp", "Sharp, J. H.", "Sharp, Joseph Henry"
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