Joseph Henry Sharp, 'A Prehistoric Bowl', and Spanish Colonial Chip-Carved Chest will be auctioned together on July 25th
-- Unseen for 80+ years and never before offered at auction --
By: Shapiro Auctions
The painting, A Prehistoric Bowl, won the Pasadena Art Institute's five-hundred-
The subjects of the work are three artifacts: a bowl, a piece of drapery, and a chest. The items were carefully selected – the importance that each item be recognized, not only for its aesthetic qualities, but also for its meaning to Sharp and beyond is elucidated by the writing on the back of the painting, written in Sharp's own hand:
' "A Prehistoric Bowl - Excavated Near the Pueblo of Zuni, N. Mex. ($500 prize Pasadena Art Inst 1935). Chest was property of Gov. Bent, 1st Gov. of New Mex. Killed in the battle of Taos in last war of Indians + Gov't. Red drapery I bought from the back of a Camel (over howda) in Biskra, Africa" - J.H. Sharp. Taos, N. Mex. '
The Zuni bowl is the central 'figure' in the painting. The bowl is earthenware and therefore can be seen as an embodiment of the harmony between man and nature; something Sharp always admired and a theme frequently showcased in his works. The bowl was "excavated", as Sharp puts it, once forgotten and estranged from human eyes, but now sitting proudly atop the Spanish Colonial Chest. Though prominent in the painting, the bowl is humble and without ornamentation. It has a modesty not without dignity, and the chip in its rim is displayed as a badge of honor, an evidence of its age and a previous life in which it was heavily-used.
The bowl sits atop the second object, the Spanish Colonial Chest. The chest is an artifact emblematic of the imperialism that ran the New Mexico territory once Spain ceded the territory to the United States. The allegory here is readily apparent as the bowl, made by native people, sits above an object associated with colonialism. This style of chest is seen as an adaptation of old-world, traditional, Spanish craftsmanship with utilization of the wood endemic to the American Southwest. This chest is traditional in its chip-carved style and was acquired by Sharp as having previously been owned by the first Governor of New Mexico, Charles Bent. Bent had been working as a sutler and fur trader in New Mexico when he was appointed as he territorial governor under the U.S. occupation. In 1847, only a few months after his appointment, Bent was famously killed in his home during the last revolt of the Taos Pueblos. The chest may very well have been present for Bent's assassination. Bent was survived by his wife Maria Ignacia Jaramillo, who's sister was married to the well-known frontiersman Kit Carson. Bent was a member of a prominent family, his father was a judge and member of the Missouri supreme court. A chest such as this one would have only been available to the upper-class and were often used to hold a family's valuables. The indigenous inflections in the design of the chest are representative of the influence and impression the indigenous population made on those who are new to their land, including, but not limited to, Sharp. It is quite rare to have such a chest in original condition. It is tremendously rare to have the actual, pictured subject matter of a painting not only survive, but be sold along with the painting itself. The chest brings the painting to life both literally and figuratively. The chest has a beautiful patina and, though in great condition for its age, shows evidence of a life lived similarly to the Zuni bowl. Remarkably, the chest is complete with the original lock and key. The key also features in the painting itself, forming a diagonal between the chest and the bowl. Compositionally, the chest helps to balance the painting. The chest makes up the majority of the work's lower register, allowing the painting to adhere to the 'rule of thirds', a traditional compositional technique.
The drapery of the painting is the most complex object, compositionally. Sharp acquired the drapery, a 'howdah' that sits beneath a saddle, off of a camel's back during his travels in Biskra, North Africa. Like Taos, Biskra was a hub for international artists. The drapery represents Sharp's extensive travels, his love of said travels, and the influence they had on him.
As Sharp aged and his senses dwindled, he painted a great number of still lifes as opposed to subjects that involved travel and 'field work.' Sharp developed a keen interest in Dutch still life paintings, which feature simple arrangements of beautiful objects that resonate with a greater emblematic or allegorical meaning. Sharp himself painted a great number of works which featured a bouquet of flowers and other quintessential still-life subjects. A Prehistoric Bowl deviates from both Sharp's and the typical still life artist's standard subject-matter. Rather than depicting stereotypically beautiful objects that signify wealth and luxury, this work features objects that have a beauty in their utilitarian simplicity, signs of age and therefore longevity. The items in the painting are not simply ethnographic or archeological artefacts, but rather objects symbolic of three distinct material cultures that influenced (to varying degrees) Sharp's artistic development
A Prehistoric Bowl is a unique work in that it references Sharp himself, his passions, and the themes and characteristics featured in his best-known works. It is neither a typical work for his early nor his later years. Moreover, the painting will be sold with one of the objects meticulously selected, and owned, by Joseph Henry Sharp--the Spanish Colonial Chest pictured in the work itself. This is an incredible opportunity to own a piece of both art history and American history, and Shapiro Auctions is delighted to be able to present these works for sale as one lot in hopes that they will continue to be displayed together.
Shapiro Auctions is pleased to offer the Joseph Henry Sharp painting 'A Prehistoric Bowl' and accompanying Spanish colonial chip-carved chest as part of our upcoming July 25th Important Fine & Decorative Art Auction. This lot will be featured as lot #199 amongst more than five hundred other rare and wonderful pieces.