Joseph Henry Sharp was born 27 September 1859, at Bridgeport, Ohio; his father, who was a merchant, moved to Ironton, Ohio in 1870. Joseph Henry nearly drowned when he was around twelve, an accident that eventually resulted in his total deafness. In 1874, he enrolled in the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati and later at the Cincinnati Art Academy. Frank Duveneck, Robert Blum, Kenyon Cox, Edward Potthast and Henry Farny were also working in the city. Sharp sailed for Europe in 1881, studying with Charles Verlat in Antwerp. Upon his return to Cincinnati, Sharp rented a studio in the same building as Farny, who kindled his interest in depicting Indian life. Sharp travelled to the Southwest and Pacific Coast in 1883.
In 1886 and 1889 he returned to Europe, studying with Carl von Marr and Nicholas Gysis at the Royal Academy, Munich. In 1892 Sharp married Addie Josephine Byram and began teaching until 1902 at the Cincinnati Art Academy. Sharp and John Hauser travelled to Taos, New Mexico, in 1893. The following year he attended the Académie Julian in Paris, where he studied with Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant, and took night classes with J. Andre Castaigne and G. C. E. Courtois at the Académie Colarossi. Returning to Cincinnati, he travelled to Sante Fe and Taos in 1897 and 1898; in 1899 he visited Montana for the first time.
In 1900 Sharp's Indian portraits were exhibited in Cincinnati, Detroit and Washington (DC), where eleven paintings were sold to the Smithsonian Institution. Sharp began to receive major patronage from Joseph Butler and Phoebe Hearst. In 1912, Sharp located permanently in Taos, New Mexico. His wife Addie died in 1913; two years later he married her younger sister, Louise Byram. They travelled extensively, visiting Algeria, Hawaii, Mexico, Japan, China, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. Sharp died on 29 August 1953, in Pasadena, California, at the age of 94.

Kenneth W. Maddox