More than a decade before Sharp painted this oil, he was experimenting with what he called “light or atmospheric snow pieces.” (Letter Sharp to Gest, 12/4/04, Sharp Papers) An art critic who saw some of these early winter landscapes in New York at the Fishel, Adler & Schwartz Gallery in 1904 lauded such works and came to appreciate that “the snowy landscapes, sage-brush foothills, and winter foliage along the Big Horn River” were exceptionally “paintable.” (Leslie’s Weekly, 12/4/04) These nascent efforts, like Winter Scene of 1903 (Record 315), were relatively small and heavily freighted with a thick, suffused atmosphere compared to airy openness of Winter Camp on the Little Big Horn, but they were still powerfully evocative of winter’s mood.
Winter Camp on the Little Big Horn is dated on the front of the canvas, “1919.” Sharp’s art by that time was generously populated with landscape subjects, and he often mentioned that with landscapes he preferred to paint them en plein air as opposed to in the studio. This oil certainly has the spontaneity of an outdoor creation with its clear atmospheric richness, the tingling chill of its gently suffused light, and its chromatic truth to nature in winter.
Sharp wrote to his patron Joseph G. Butler, Jr. in December 1919 that “My health is so much under par that I am advised to forgo the rigors of the Montana studio this winter, so we go to Pasadena.” (Letter 12/1/19, Sharp Papers) This work, however, certainly does not have the feeling of a painting produced in southern California. It had to have been painted in January or February that year.
Peter H. Hassrick