In 1922, Sharp returned to Europe, once again visiting the Prado in Spain, as he had with fellow Cincinnati artist Frank Duveneck in 1895. The voyage also included a trip to North Africa where Sharp spent time painting the Sahara and the region’s cities, often portraying the people of North Africa in his compositions. Sidi-bou-Said (Tunisia) is one of these canvases.
In this painting, Sharp’s interest in the similarities between North African life and southwestern Native American life is visually apparent. Sharp also verbally conveyed this interesting comparison to Mary L. Alexander, a long-time reviewer his work and a favorite of Sharp’s. He told Alexander that, “The similarity of old Biskra, which means oasis in the Sahara, and other inland towns to our own inland Pueblo of the Southwest is very striking. The same size adobe with its brick, mud and stone walls and plastering, carved timbers and logs for wall and roof supports are almost identical with Taos and other Pueblos. I deceived many people this summer, having them try to locate in which pueblo along the Rio Grande this or that sketch was made…At a short distance the robes of the Arabs, in color, texture, and folds could scarcely be distinguished from the way our own Indians wear theirs.” (“Artist Was Caught in Swirl of Sandstorm While Painting Scene in Desert Near Biskra,” The Daily Times, 11/ 27/1923)
While Biskra, Algeria is about 370 miles from Sidi-bou-Said, Tunisia, Sharp’s statement can be used to understand his experience of the desert environments of North Africa, especially because Sidi-bou-Said (Tunisia), as a painting, portrays many of the elements Sharp mentions in his statement to Alexander, for example the adobe-like structures and “robes of the Arabs.” A comparative example that depicts such robes in a southwestern Native American setting is Sharp’s painting The Gift Dance Drummers. (related image 94) Painted before Sharp departed for his 1922 trip to North Africa, but after his first trip with Duveneck, viewing The Gift Dance Drummers and Sidi-bou-Said (Tunisia) side by side, allows for an understanding of what Sharp meant when he said he “deceived many people” with his paintings. Visually, the figures in each painting could nearly pass as figures from the opposite painting. This statement, of course, also demonstrates the witty sense of humor that Sharp exhibited throughout his life.
The artist; [?]; William H. Thams, Oklahoma City, OK; present owner by gift in memory of Roxanne P. Thams, 2003
This sketch was made in North Africa where the Sharps traveled in 1922 after visiting Spain. Several such sketches, though not this one, were exhibited the next year in Cincinnati in an exhibition Indian Paintings and Western Landscapes and Sketches of Africa and Spain at Cincinnati's Traxel's Art Galleries in 1923.