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Honoré Sharrer


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Painter. In recent decades known for quirky, often dreamlike, surrealistic images, Sharrer earlier employed her tight, highly detailed but imaginative approach to focus on the lives of ordinary Americans, often within self-consciously posed tableaux. A cultivated ingenuousness and patterned colors contribute to a charmingly naive spirit that accommodates unsettling notes. Tribute to the American Working People (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1946–51), modeled on the form of an early Renaissance altarpiece, pays homage to blue-collar dignity. In the central panel, replacing the saint's image of earlier centuries, a workman stands before a gabled building. From its windows, varied individuals look out or, oddly, turn their backs. Similarly leavened with peculiarities, four smaller genre scenes flank the central panel. The focus on working-class experience suggests ties to the American Scene movement popular in her youth, but the characteristic combination of fact and fancy establishes an affinity with magic realism. Honoré Desmond Sharrer was born in West Point, New York, but moved often during her youth. At the age of fourteen she was already studying art in Paris, where her family lived for a time. After they moved to San Diego in 1935, she graduated from high school in nearby La Jolla in 1938, studied art at Yale University for a year, and continued her training at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) in 1940–41. During World War II she became interested in leftist politics and worked in the defense industry, first on the West Coast and after 1943 near New York. In 1947 she married history professor Perez Zagorin (1920–2009) and left New York for Amherst, Massachusetts. After two years, the couple departed for England, then lived in Poughkeepsie, New York, in Montreal, and in Europe. From 1965 until 1994 they remained in the Rochester, New York, area and then moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. She died in Washington, D.C. Her mother, painter Madeleine Ellen Sachs Sharrer (1898–1988), born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, studied in New York with George Luks and Charles Hawthorne and in Paris. She exhibited portraits and still lifes. Following the death of her first husband, she married Reginald Poland (1893–1975), director of the San Diego Museum of Art. She died in Guilford, Connecticut, where she had lived since the early 1950s.

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