Overview

Heade offered viewers an intimate glimpse into the exotic recesses of nature's secret garden. Lichen covers dead branches; moss drips from trees; and, a blue-gray mist veils the distant jungle. An opulent pink orchid with light-green stems and pods dominates the left foreground. To the right, perched near a nest on a branch, are a Sappho Comet, green with a yellow throat and brilliant red tail feathers, and two green-and-pink Brazilian Amethysts.

Perhaps inspired by the writings of Charles Darwin, the artist studied these subjects in the wild during several expeditions to South America. The precisely rendered flora and fauna seem alive in their natural habitat, not mere specimens for scientific analysis. Defying strict categorization as either still life or landscape, Heade's work reflects the artist's unerring attention to detail and his delight in the infinitesimal joys of nature.

Inscription

lower right: M. J. Heade / 1871

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Private collection; (sale, Adam A. Weschler & Son, Washington, D.C., 21-23 May 1982, 3rd day, no. 1316);[1] (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York); purchased 14 October 1982 by NGA.

Exhibition History

1999
Martin Johnson Heade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1999-2000, no. 57, repro.
2009
Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2009, no. 185, fig. 262.

Bibliography

1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 549, no. 833, color repro.
1988
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 13-14, repro.
1989
_American Paintings from the Manoogian Collection. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington, D.C., 1989:
1989
Manthorne, Katherine Emma. Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839-1879. Washington, D.C., and London, 1989: 118, 120, fig. 61.
1990
_American Originals: Selections from Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Exh. cat. American Federation of Arts, New York, 1990: 68.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 292, color repro.
1992
_American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 197, repro.
1992
_National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 240, repro.
1996
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 291-295, color repro.
1997
Kratz, Otto. Alexander von Humboldt: Wissenschaftler - Weltbürger - Revolutionär, Munich, 1997: 166-167, repro.
1999
_Martin Johnson Heade. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1999-2000: no. 57.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 313, no. 253, color repro.

Technical Summary

The support is a Winsor and Newton prepared mahogany panel, 1.2 cm thick and with horizontal grain, trimmed on the right edge before painting. The orchid is thinly painted, allowing the off-white ground to show through. The paint was applied wet-into-wet with small brushes. There are some areas of impasto, especially in the whites. The sky has a fine crackle pattern that does not continue into the foreground. Generally, the paint is in excellent condition, with only a few small losses and minimal abrasion. The varnish has not discolored.

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