Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

March 8 - June 20, 2007
Exhibited at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Tribute to the American Working People, 1951, by Honoré Sharrer

Around 1943, artist Honoré Sharrer first conceived of the painting now known as Tribute to the American Working People. The resulting polyptych consists of five panels, each meticulously painted in oil on composition board.

The Archives of American Art acquired Honoré Sharrer's personal papers in May 2006. The collection is rich with correspondence, lively sketches, and copious amounts of photographs used by the artist to create her work. Much of this material relates directly to Tribute to the American Working People, revealing the artist’s process. This website also includes an in-depth interview of the artist’s husband, Perez Zagorin, with exhibition organizer Laura Orgon MacCarthy.

The Archives of American Art wishes to thank the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their generous loan of Tribute to the American Working People for this exhibition.

View Items from This Exhibition

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Man seated in chair and woman posing as if hanging clothes on a line

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Man seated in chair and woman posing as if hanging clothes on a line, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Esther and John McKenzie, who owned the building at 130 Bank Street in New York City’s West Village where Sharrer was a lodger, posed for In the Parlor. Esther, pretending to hang clothes on the line, is the woman at the center of the painting.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Boy holding drawing

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Boy holding drawing, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

This young boy, wearing an aviator cap and holding up a drawing for all to see, directly confronts the viewer with his stark gaze. Sharrer transferred this same stare into the Public School panel.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Two children

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Two children, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

To paint this boy on horseback holding a freshly-killed rabbit, Sharrer asked children on the street near her New York City apartment to pose for her.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Man with hat and pipe

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Man with hat and pipe, ca. 1948

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

With his buttoned-up shirt, hat and jacket, this gentleman is dressed in his Sunday best. Sharrer noted, “Most people, when I asked them to pose, wanted naturally to abandon their gingham aprons, get out of their run-over bedroom slippers and take off their hair curlers.”

Learn More


Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Laborer outside

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Laborer outside, ca. 1948

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Sharrer took over 400 documentary photographs and made numerous sketches in the preparatory stages of this painting. This was necessary, in her words, “to authenticate the people.” Sharrer painted this man in meticulous detail: the overalls, cap, and glasses are rendered almost exactly as they are in the source photograph.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Man in chair smoking pipe

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Man in chair smoking pipe, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

John McKenzie, another neighbor of Sharrer’s, is the figure in the rocking chair, puffing on a pipe. Sharrer posed neighbors and friends, and photographed them with her 35mm Rolleiflex camera.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Woman laborer

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Woman laborer, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Sharrer photographed this country woman sniffing her apron and painted her into Farm Scene. In the painting, the figure is completely detached from the rest of the figures (as they are from each other) and looks out of the picture plane.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Young woman outdoors leaning on shelving

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Young woman outdoors leaning on shelving, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

About this photograph, the artist said: “This is also a study for the figure of the girl leaning on the chicken brooder…in this photograph I came closer to the thin grace that I wanted.” Similar photographs of other individuals in the same pose also found in the collection show that Sharrer was searching for a particular quality in the people she photographed—she kept looking, and photographing, until the precise quality she required for the painting was found.

Learn More


Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Profile of a man smoking

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Profile of a man smoking, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

This man, who looks directly out of the picture plane, was also photographed by Sharrer, at a factory near Amherst, Massachusetts.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Young man sitting in a chair

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Young man sitting in a chair, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

To attain the perfect pose for the teenage boy in In the Parlor, Sharrer had her husband, Perez Zagorin, dress in casual clothes and assume various positions. Using Perez as a model became part of the artist’s creative process for many years to come.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Central figure of the Tribute to the American Working People

Central figure of the Tribute to the American Working People, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Bill McIntosh, of Amherst, Massachusetts, was not a factory worked but rather the local tailor and grocer. Sharrer photographed him time and time again. Of him she said, “He never really understood why I thought his face was interesting. His keen eyes weighed my sophisticated curiosity.”

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  Back view of man with a cap

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. Back view of man with a cap, ca. 1947

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

This figure has his back to the viewer, in a relaxed stance. Another photograph taken by Sharrer at a factory near Amherst, Massachusetts.

Learn More


Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  School teacher

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. School teacher, ca. 1945

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

The lengths Sharrer went to prepare for the polyptych—traveling the countryside near her home, posing and photographing her family and friends, and dutifully combing magazines and newspapers for source material—became her modus operandi throughout her career. Years later, Sharrer wrote about this photograph: "This woman is posing for the teacher in the Public School Scene. To find the right woman, I waited outside the Dollar Store in Amherst, Mass.—and by and by she sauntered out. I used this woman's curled hair in a net and one of her hands, but her face was too understanding. What I wanted was a face that would represent the gap between the children's imaginative and fluid ways and a teacher's dyed-in-the-wool character. The limitation of her artistic nature is represented in the painting by the Victorian, hand-painted vase. She is nevertheless very kind to the children."

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People.  A boy seated in a chair

Source material for Tribute to the American Working People. A boy seated in a chair, ca. 1945

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

This boy, who is presumably in “time out,” was photographed by Sharrer and used in the corner of the Public School.

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Ammunition, published by the UAW-CIO

Ammunition, published by the UAW-CIO, 1957 June

Creator: AFL-CIO

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Honoré Sharrer in her studio

Honoré Sharrer in her studio, 1951 Apr. 4

Creator: Yale Joel

Learn More


Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Honoré Sharrer outdoors

Honoré Sharrer outdoors, ca. 1947

Creator: Perez Zagorin

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Notes for the polyptych  Tribute to the American Working People

Notes for the polyptych Tribute to the American Working People , 1944-1950

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Dorothy Canning Miller, New York, N.Y. letter to Honoré Sharrer, New York, N.Y.

Dorothy Canning Miller, New York, N.Y. letter to Honoré Sharrer, New York, N.Y., 1945 Sept. 13

Creator: Dorothy Canning Miller

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Honoré Sharrer, New York, N.Y. letter to Honoré Sachs

Honoré Sharrer, New York, N.Y. letter to Honoré Sachs, 1950 Apr. 14

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Learn More


Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Honoré Sharrer

Honoré Sharrer, ca. 1955

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Lincoln Kirstein, New York, N.Y. letter to Honor? Sharrer, New York, N.Y.

Lincoln Kirstein, New York, N.Y. letter to Honor? Sharrer, New York, N.Y., 1953 May 17

Creator: Lincoln Edward Kirstein

Learn More

Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People

Fellowship application for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Fellowship application for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, c. 1948

Creator: Honoré Desmond Sharrer

Learn More