After his wife Addie’s death in 1913, Sharp returned to Europe with her sister Louise in 1914. As an extension of this trip, the pair also traveled to Egypt. Sharp completed a few paintings while there, including The Sphinx and the Pyramid of the Chiefs. In a letter to William Henry Holmes at the Smithsonian Institution, Sharp detailed his experiences in Egypt and compared them to his perception of the Native Americans. Sharp wrote, “The majesty, simplicity, and serenity of Egyptian art made an impression on me that modern art never has…Very striking, too, the similarity of nature life, houses, wears, etc., to our Southwestern Indians” (Letter from JHS to Holmes, 2/24/1914, Archives of American Art).
This letter is very telling. While Egypt’s people themselves do not factor into this painting, through Sharp’s rendering of the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, a visual comparison to the desert environments of the pueblos of the American Southwest is certainly made. Not only does the letter connect Sharp’s experiences with Egyptian culture directly to his experiences with southwestern Native Americans, but it also reveals Sharp’s, at best ambivalence toward, and at worst distaste for modern art.
Sharp’s style of painting in this work is slightly different from his typical portraits and landscapes. Instead of adhering to a strict impressionist, tonalist, or realist style, or any combination of the three, Sharp drifts toward a much more post-impressionist style. While Sharp uses bright tones and colors, as many Impressionists did, the colors here are almost overly bright. Perhaps an apt comparison would be Sharp’s use of dark tones in The Lament for the Dead which does not quite correspond to the dark tones used in the Munich style but instead exhibits post-impressionist qualities. (#266) Additionally, Post-Impressionist influence can be seen in his paint-handling, particularly in the way Sharp creates visible brushstrokes that simulate a circular motion, emanating out from the large pyramid.