The guest's Painting Discovery
"This was a wedding gift to my parents when they got married in 1940 in Chicago," the guest said at ROADSHOW's 2012 event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He had inherited the painting about 30 years ago, but had never had it appraised. One day, a guest in his house saw the painting at the top of his stairs and did a double take, "Do you know what that is?" The guest responded, "Yeah, it's a painting of an adobe or something." The guest replied, "That's a J.H. Sharp picture. You don't put that up here in front like that, exposed to light. You've got to protect that." The guest finally followed up on having the painting appraised by Debra Force at Myrtle Beach's ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, discovering the painting was worth $400,000.
Joseph Henry Sharp and the Taos School
Joseph Henry Sharp was one of the most important painters from the Taos School of artists who painted the landscape around Taos, New Mexico, in the early 20th century. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Sharp moved to Taos full-time in 1912. Somewhat prolific, Sharp painted the adobe houses, scenery, and American Indians in Taos. "Taos paintings are highly coveted and sought after," Force says. "Although Sharp was somewhat prolific, a lot of his works are much smaller and don't necessarily have the same luminous quality this one does."
Luminosity and Condition
"It's in superb condition," Force explains, meaning that the painting is in its original condition and does not appear to have suffered any damage, such as holes, tears, cracking, or paint losses. This Sharp painting is oil on canvas with a very textural surface, with areas of impasto, or areas where the oil paint is more heavily applied.
Native Americans in Taos, New Mexico
The Taos School painted the landscape as well as Native American life in Taos. In this painting, Sharp depicts two Native Americans holding a conversation in front of an exemplary adobe house in the style of the area. The painting has "pretty much what you'd want in a painting of this type with the adobe, Native Americans, and beautiful golden light," Force says. "All the light and shadow is really quite magnificent."
The Success of Sharp's Inspiration
The first time Sharp went to New Mexico was in 1883, returning to Taos in 1893 for commissioned work by Harper's Weekly. He also visited Montana, where he painted the Crow and Sioux Indians. In 1900, the Smithsonian purchased several of his paintings. He achieved financial success when William Randolph Hearst's mother, Phoebe Hearst, bought 80 of his paintings of Native Americans.
The Stretcher Label
The painting is labeled "Kit Carson's Old House," implying the adobe structure in this oil is one of the homes that belonged to famed American frontiersman, Kit Carson. His 1843 adobe three-room home stands today as a museum on the same street as Sharp's studio, a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Upon researching the painting further, however, ROADSHOW discovered that the painting does not depict Kit Carson's home, but another scene in Taos. The label is from the same period as the painting, given the age of the paper and the way it was written. This gives it some credibility, rather than a newer label pasted to the stretcher. "If a gallery sold this work, it would have its logo on the label as well as more artist information," Force says. "If it was in someone's collection, or in the artist family, labels were usually handwritten."
(Photo courtesy of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW guest.)
Kit Carson's House
Because the label features a lettered signature, the handwriting could be compared to determine if Sharp wrote this label. The fact that the painting was incorrectly labeled does not affect the price, though. It would be a historical added point of interest; had Sharp known Carson, it may have affected the value, but in this scenario Sharp is simply depicting a classic adobe house. In fact, there is a noted difference between the house represented in Sharp's painting and this photograph of Kit Carson's house. "It's possible the artist took license and didn't exactly paint the house, but the content was pretty specific with the Indians conversing in front of the house and it looks like something he would have witnessed and painted," Force says.
(By Archinia, via Wikimedia Commons)
Whose Home is This?
Why was this label applied to the painting? Oftentimes, labels can have the wrong medium, size, or title for pieces. It would not appear that the label was applied to increase its value, since it was written in the same period as the painting. "In this case, it doesn't strike me as something that's been done to be deceitful," Force says.
(By Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia Commons)
Inscribed in the Back Stretcher
While the carved inscription on the stretcher looks mysterious, Force does not believe it refers to this particular painting. "Sometimes artists will re-use the wood from other stretchers for various paintings," she says. Ultimately, the label and inscription on the stretcher do not affect the value of this piece; rather, they add a dimension and interest to its history.
(Photo courtesy of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW guest.