Art-World Prodigy: Honoré Sharrer

Andréa Fernandes

Honoré Sharrer (1920-2009) passed away at age 88 a month ago, on April 17, but her death was only announced by her family last week. The American artist is best known for her "Tribute to the American Working People" polyptych. Her style has been described as "magic realism."

1. Honoré Sharrer was born at West Point, NY, where her Army officer father was stationed. Twenty-four years later, in 1944, Sharrer returned to West Point to paint a mural in the Thayer Hotel.

2. At age 18, Sharrer took first place in the graphic-arts category of nationwide contest sponsored by The American. The following year, she became the youngest artist to participate in the Golden Gate Exposition, which also included Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper. By 1951, when her first solo exhibition was mounted at Knoedler Gallery, she was widely heralded as an "art-world prodigy."

3. "Tribute to the American Working People" is considered Sharrer's "masterwork." The 6 foot by 3 foot, 5-image polyptych took Sharrer 5 years to complete. Three weeks of that time was spent on just the moldings of a factory building. Sharrer exhausted about 225 delicate paintbrushes on the large work, which includes portraits of 72 blue-collar figures.

4. For Sharrer, 1943 was a busy year. She moved from California to New Jersey, working as a welder in shipyards in Hoboken during World War II. She also created department store window designs and storyboard sketches for an animated film company.

5. Sharrer got an early start on her art education—her mother, Madeleine Sachs, was a painter and gave Sharrer her first painting lessons. Later, Sharrer studied at Yale University's School of Art and the California School of Fine Arts. She withdrew from Yale after just one year, though, and spent a similarly short period of time at the California School of Fine Arts.

A larger version of Honoré Sharrer's "Reception" is available here. Fans should check out the Sharrer online exhibition from the Spanierman Gallery; the collection of Sharrer works in the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art; and the Smithsonian's anatomy of Sharrer's "Tribute to the American Working People," including the interactive highlight and interview with Sharrer's husband. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.