Beginning in the 1920s, there was a steep increase in the number of floral still lifes Sharp painted, a practice he continued in abundance throughout the rest of his life. While it is impossible to definitively explain why this increase in floral still lifes happened, in two letters to Joe Scheuerle from 1936 and 1937, Sharp expressed a fatigue he experienced in painting his normal subjects, Indians. On October 13, 1936, he wrote, “Do you know I hadn’t painted an Indian for one or two years until this Spring...I just got tired of them after over 40 years of it.” He also admitted that he was only painting Indian subjects at that point in order to sell more paintings, writing, “I haven’t painted an Indian in 3 yrs! Just got tired—now I have to go back to them this summer—almost cleaned out of salable stuff so have to make some firelight and war bonnet potboilers!” (Letters from JHS to Scheuerle, 10/13/1936 and 4/15/1937, Sharp Papers)
In these letters to Scheuerle, Sharp also describes what he was painting instead, stating, “I’ve been painting a good deal of landscape, still life (mostly flowers on a big scale) and marines.” It was not only Sharp and his close correspondents who were privy to this shift in subject matter. An article in the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1926 declared, “Somehow lately Sharp seems in his work to be trying to break away from his old manner of painting Indians, and occasionally, in landscapes, he will leave the Indian out entirely. Canvases this year are glowing with the warmth and brilliancy of flowers.” (Enquirer, 11/ 28/ 1926)
In Dahlias, Asters and Various Flowers, Sharp demonstrates his skill at floral still life painting. By placing the vase of flowers near an open window, he allows himself the opportunity to experiment with internal and external light sources, as he had been doing for years with his Indian scenes. Sharp also references the Dutch Baroque still life theme of vanitas, a theme which is fueled by the concepts of death, change, and inevitability, by portraying drooping and fallen sections of flowers. Additionally, although the painting is not focused on Native Americans, the small bowl to the right of the composition alludes to the subject that had preoccupied Sharp’s work for the majority of his life.
In terms of style, Sharp depicts this scene with a soft, impressionistic brushstroke. This characteristic was part choice and part necessity. In late 1908, Sharp suffered an injury in which an ember flew into his eye. (Letter from JHS to Gest, 12/15/1908) After that moment, and for the rest of his life, the artist dealt with vision problems, including diminishing eyesight, leading him to paint more florals as they were easier to depict with fewer details than most of his Indian subject matters.