[Small Cheyenne Head]
A famous man among the Northern Cheyenne, Big Beaver was just the type of Indian Sharp relished in painting. He had fought and suffered with the Dull Knife band of Cheyenne who resisted relocation from Montana to Oklahoma in the mid-1870s. After escaping north in 1877, he had lived through a subsequent incarceration at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and was part of a group who escaped again and fled west and north to Montana. His story of sacrifice and bravery was told by George Bird Grinnell, one of the early historians of the Cheyenne people and a friend of Sharp’s. (The Fighting Cheyenne, 1915)
This portrait, painted in 1905 after Sharp’s showings of similar portraits in New York City and Boston, was demonstrative of a change in his painting method. His earlier works suffered, according to one Boston critic Philip Hale, from having been too tightly drawn and having too many highlights in the facial features. Hale referred to them in a most unflattering way as being “greasy looking.” (Boston Herald, 1/19/03) The portrait of Big Beaver enjoys more expressive brushwork and is more subdued in its highlights than earlier portraits. It had not taken long for Sharp to respond to criticism of his technique.
Peter H. Hassrick
The artist; Mrs. Charles Bair, Billings, MT, 1906; Bair family by descent; present owner
This portrait was sold to Mrs. Charles Bair for $250 in September 1906 and was listed in the artist's ledger book simply as Small Cheyenne Head. (Sharp Papers)