William Sharp. Ramsey, near Peterborough, England 1803 -1875 Cambridge, Massachusetts. Francis William Pitt Greenwood, 1840. Color lithograph, 20 ½ x 16 ½ in.Inscribed on stone, lower right: W. Sharp, 1840. Gift of Charles E. Mason, Jr., 1977.
William Sharp’s lithograph portrait of the Rev. Francis William Pitt Greenwood (1797-1843), the Unitarian pastor of Kings Chapel, Boston, was calculated to be a noteworthy first commission to mark the debut of Sharp’s lithographic business in Boston. Sharp was trained as an artist in England, became a member of the Society of British Artists, and exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts. He was also a skilled lithographer who developed a specialty of copying on stone the paintings and drawings of popular artists, most particularly John Hayter (1800-1891), the romantic portraitist. At first these lithographs were printed by the great London firms of Hullmandel and Day & Haghe, and by Lemercier in Paris, but by 1833 Sharp had his own imprint and was experimenting with color printing. Sharp’s career in England seems to have been successful but, for reasons unknown, he left England for Boston in 1839.
Upon his arrival, Sharp set about establishing a reputation as an artist. He exhibited four works at the Boston Athenæum gallery in 1839 and nine the following year. He also asked the vestry of King’s Chapel if he could make a large lithographic portrait of their pastor at no charge to the church. The resulting print, Drawn from Nature and on Stone, and Printed in Colours by Wm. Sharp, was dedicated to the congregation of that church. Sharp depicted Greenwood in a half-length seated pose, gazing directly at the viewer, the austerity of his slender figure softened by the ministerial robe draped over his arms and legs. The delicate drawing is characteristic of Sharp and emphasizes Greenwood’s spiritual and intellectual nature and his refined, pallid elegance. The portrait is printed over a beige tint block on which certain areas such as the cravat, cuff, and feather pen have been stopped out, revealing the white of the paper. The face, hands, and tablecloth are printed in a coral pink color that is applied in varied intensity to model the features, and a delicate blue tint creates an aura around the head. This portrait of a Boston luminary clearly demonstrated that Sharp’s draftsmanship was superior to anything offered by the local lithographic shops, and the printing of multiple colors was an innovation for lithography in Boston and possibly in the United States.
In the same year as the Greenwood portrait, Sharp produced a print recording the Bunker Hill Whig Convention of 1840. The delegates are shown parading in ranks around the half-completed Bunker Hill Monument. The elaborate printed description makes it clear that this is actually a miniature history painting, sketched by Sharp, who was at the event. The tinted lithograph adorns the cover of a piece of sheet music entitled the Freemens’ Quick Step (illustration). Sharp was also responsible for a series of Boston views, The Streets of Boston, after paintings by Philip Harry (fl. 1833-1857), another English artist. The first view in this four-part series was printed by B. W. Thayer, successor to Boston’s founding lithographic shop, but the Thayer product was undistinguished, lacking in tonal range and animation. The three prints from Sharp’s firm more successfully translate the quality of Harry’s paintings and convey the architectural elegance and verdure of Boston at that time (illustration).
In his color printing, Sharp continued to outshine the competition. His sheet music cover Quadrille de Punch (ca. 1843), showing the puppet hero gorgeously arrayed in brilliant red, blue, and gold, trounces the more pallid Valse de Judy printed by Thayer at the same time. Sharp’s talent was enlisted by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to print glowing full-color lithographs of horticultural specimens to illustrate The Fruits of America, issued in parts from 1847-1856 in the Society’s proceedings and then gathered into two volumes by Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887). The most outstanding examples of Sharp’s skill as a designer and color printer are the plates for Victoria Regia: or the Great Water Lily of America by John Fisk Allen, published in Boston in 1854, and consistently recognized as one of the great works of American botanical art.
The Athenæum has actively collected the work of William Sharp and owns the Victoria Regia and the two-volume Fruits of America, as well as extensive holdings of the sheet music covers and separately issued prints produced throughout his years in Boston, where he had many business partnerships.
Sally Pierce, from, Stanley Ellis Cushing and David B. Dearinger, eds., Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum (2006): 303-306. Copyright © The Boston Athenæum.
Bettina A. Norton, “William Sharp, Accomplished Lithographer,” in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Art and Commerce: American Prints of the Nineteenth Century (1978).
Only the titles of the works were listed in the exhibition catalogues, making it difficult to know if Sharp exhibited paintings or prints.|
Norton, 75, n3, quotes from the records of King’s Chapel, on deposit at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The vestry minutes for December 19, 1839 record: “It is being represented by Mr. Eliot that Mr. Wm. Sharp, an eminent artist, was desirous to take a likeness, gratuitously, of the Revd. Mr. Greenwood for the purpose of furnishing engravings thereof, it was voted, that Mr. Eliot be a committee to request Mr. Greenwood, to accede to the wishes of Mr. Sharp, by sitting to him for his likeness.”
The “Remarks” printed under the image read: “As this print will remain long after all who beheld the brilliant spectacle shall have
passed away, it may not be amiss to stamp upon it the interesting fact, that on this same ‘10th of September’ a Fair was held by Ladies in the City of Boston, for the purpose of obtaining funds for the completion of the Monument (which is here presented in its unfinished state). The object was entirely successful – This drawing was taken from Mr. Phipps’ house, South East of the Monument, and represents the moment of time when the Cavalcade having countermarched, are about returning to the City; while a portion only of the Delegates on foot have yet reached the hill.”
The text and illustrations of this work borrow heavily fromVictoria Regia, or, Illustrations of the Royal Water-lily, in a Series of Figures Chiefly Made from Specimens Flowering at Syon and Kew, by Walter Fitch, with descriptions by Sir W. J. Hooker (London: Reeve & Benham, 1851); but Sharp made his drawings from plants grown in a greenhouse in Salem, Massachusetts, and made alterations to the number and order of the plates and to the compositions and colors.
 See the entries for Sharp in Boston Athenæum: Sally Pierce and Catharina Slautterback, Boston Lithography, 1825-1880: The Boston Athenæum Collection (1991).