National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Martin Johnson Heade

Selections from the Exhibition | Related Online Resources
Introduction | Seashore Views and Marshes | Early Still Lifes | Hummingbirds | Florida | Images

In all the works of his artistic maturity, Heade was a romantic masquerading as a realist. He studied the hummingbirds, the orchids and the passionflowers with the eye of a naturalist, just as he sketched the landscapes of the Northeast, Florida and Brazil using the methods of a topographical painter. Yet in each genre, the paintings have more to do with memory than fact; they speak less to the keenness of observation than to the richness of the painter's imagination. --Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. (from the exhibition catalogue Martin Johnson Heade)

The National Gallery of Art's retrospective exhibition presents seventy-four works by Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904). Heade had the longest career and produced perhaps the most varied body of work of any American painter of the nineteenth century. A loner for much of his life and, as an artist, a nonjoiner and unconventional in his subject matter, Heade was only moderately successful in his own day. After his death he was completely forgotten. Rediscovered less than 57 years ago, he is now appreciated as an artist of great significance and originality.

The son of a farmer in rural Pennsylvania, by the age of eighteen Heade had begun to paint, learning the rudiments of the craft from his Bucks County neighbor, the folk artist Edward Hicks. At the age of twenty-four, he moved to New York City, and for the next fifteen years traveled throughout the United States and Europe, developing his trade while painting portraits, genre scenes, and copies of famous American and European portraits. He spent the next two years abroad, largely in Rome.

During the mid-1850s, Heade became interested in landscape, in which, along with still lifes, he soon began to specialize. In an era when it was rare for an artist to specialize in more than one type of painting, he stands out as one artist whose landscapes, marines, and still lifes are equally powerful. Heade soon developed his own approach to landscapes, adapting techniques from the Hudson River School, but depicting subjects that were his alone. In 1859 he produced his first marine paintings, including Approaching Thunder Storm, and his earliest marsh scenes. Of the landscapes he produced, from 1859-1904, about half are marsh scenes, one-quarter are seashore views, and the remaining are more typical Hudson River School: mountain valleys, wooded pastures, and the like. Heade painted between fifteen and twenty-five works annually and also arranged for their shipping, framing, and exhibition; he also published poetry and articles.

Introduction | Seashore Views and Marshes | Early Still Lifes | Hummingbirds | Florida | Images