Martin Johnson (Heed) Heade

(11 August 1819 - 4 , September 1904)

American painter known for his salt marsh landscapes, seascapes, and depictions of tropical birds (such as hummingbirds), as well as lotus blossoms and other still lifes. His painting style and subject matter, while derived from the romanticism of the time, are regarded by art historians as a significant departure from those of his peers.

Heade was the son of a storekeeper, born in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, a small hamlet along the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Until the mid-1850s, his family ran what is now called the Lumberville Store and Post Office, the village's sole general store. The family spelling of the name was Heed. Heade was painting by 1839; his earliest known work is a portrait from that year. His earliest works were produced during the 1840s and were chiefly portraits. He travelled to Europe several times as a young man and lived in Rome for two years.

Heade received his first art training from the folk artist Edward Hicks, who lived in nearby Newton, and possibly also from Edward's cousin, Thomas Hicks. He first exhibited his work in 1841, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and again in 1843, at the National Academy of Design in New York. Heade began exhibiting regularly in 1848, after another trip to Europe, and became an itinerant artist on American shores.

Around 1857 Heade became interested in landscape painting, partly by meeting John Frederick Kensett and Benjamin Champney in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Heade moved to New York City in 1859 and took a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which housed many of the established artists of the Hudson River School artists of the time, such as Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Gifford, and Frederic Edwin Church. He became socially and professionally acquainted with them, and struck up a particularly close friendship with Church. His best known works are depictions of light and shadow upon the salt marshes of New England. Landscapes would ultimately form a third of Heade's total oeuvre.

Photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Heade with a hummingbird on Mrs. Heade's cane in St. Augustine, Florida

Heade's interest in the tropics was piqued at least partly by the impact of Church's monumental painting "Heart of the Andes" (1859), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heade travelled in Brazil from 1863 to 1864, where he painted an extensive series of small works featuring hummingbirds and flowers, eventually numbering over forty. In 1863, he planned to publish a volume of Brazilian hummingbirds and tropical flowers titled "The Gems of Brazil", but the project was eventually abandoned due to financial difficulty and Heade's concerns about the quality of the reproductions. Heade nevertheless returned to the tropics twice, in 1866 journeying to Nicaragua, and in 1870 to Colombia, Panama, and Jamaica, and continued to paint romantic works of tropical birds and lush foliage into his late career.

Contrary to typical Hudson River School displays of scenic mountains, valleys, and waterfalls. Heade's marsh landscapes avoided depictions of grandeur; they focused instead on the horizontal expanse of subdued scenery, and employed repeating motifs that included small haystacks and diminutive figures. Heade had less interest in topographically accurate views than the Hudson River painters, and instead focused on mood and the effects of light. These and similar works have led some historians to characterize Heade as a Luminist painter. Heade was the only 19th-century American artist to create such an extensive body of work in both still life and landscape.

His works are in most major American museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, which owns the nation's most outstanding collection of his works, including about 30 paintings as well as numerous drawings and sketchbooks; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Martin Johnson Heade as a Young Man, by Thomas Hicks

Heade married in 1883 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida. His chief works from this period were Floridian landscapes and flowers, particularly magnolias laid upon velvet cloth. He was still painting up until a few weeks before his death in 1904. In 2004, Heade was honored with a stamp from the U.S. Postal Service featuring "Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth." It should be noted that since Heade was not popular during his lifetime, there were few contemporaries who emulated his work; 20th century copies are therefore readily apparent as fakes, since it takes oil paint decades to dry out and harden.

"Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth" is a horizontal composition in which the voluptuous white flowers seem almost to glow against the soft, dark velvet, as the glossy leaves reflect the light. Heade's haunting painting seems to have more to do with the painter's memory and imagination than with fact. [ © Copyright Ownership: Art History News ]

[Martin Johnson Heade papers, 1853-1904. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Biography and Works: 2009 © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. American paradise: the world of the Hudson River school with introduction by John K. Howat. Historical Property, Portrait Collection: Brown University. Wikipedia.]

Heade, Martin J. (Am.) Born in Bucks County, Pa. He began his professional career as a portrait-painter. After two years spent in study and observation in Italy he lived in the West, and for some time in Boston. Subsequently, with Rev. J. C. Fletcher, he went to Brazil, with the intention of publishing an illustrated book on the Humming-Birds of South America, a work which he was forced to abandon after a year's effort on account of the difficulties experienced in the proper execution of the chromos. The original designs, frequently exhibited, were purchased by Sir Morton Peto, and are now in London. During his stay in Brazil Mr. Heade received at the hands of the Emperor the decoration of Chevalier of the Order of the Rose. He has since made two visits to the tropics, making many studies, from which he has painted his most attractive pictures. He has been very successful in his views of the Hoboken and Newburyport meadows, for which the demand has been so great that he has probably painted more of them than of any other class of subjects. Among his coast-scenes the finest are, "Off the California Coast" and "Point Judith." John H. C. Gray and Mr. Colgate have in their possession some of his most important tropical scenes. His "Off the California Coast" was at Philadelphia in 1876. His studio has been in New York for some years.

"No one of our artists has a more refined sense of beauty, or a more delicate feeling for color. Mr. Heade has embodied the very soul of vernal bloom and tenderness in two or three modest lovely pictures of apple-blossoms. We could not have believed so simple and common an object could be made so suggestive; but they give the very keynote of the season; they sweetly hint not only an orchard but a landscape, we seem to inhale their odor, and see their pink and white flakes quiver in the breeze of May down on the new spring grass." -- Tuckerman's Book of the Artists.

"Heade's specialty is meadows and coast views in wearisome horizontal lines and perspective, with a profuse supply of hay-ricks to vary the monotony of flatness, but flooded with rich sun-glow and sense of summer warmth." -- Jarves, Art Idea.

"There is another name that we shall add to the list of great masters [in American landscape art], that of M. J. Heade. A picture of large size is now on exhibition on Regent street, that will justify this high praise. It depends mainly on its art merit; for the subject, although original and startling, is not interesting. It would be difficult to find in the whole range of art better painting; with simple breadth of treatment every part is minutely finished. The scene is in Jamaica, the colony so long favored, now so hardly used, and it represents little more than the mountains, folded, so to say, one above another." -- Art Journal, July, 1873.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century, their Work & Biographical Sketches, Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.

Heade, Martin Johnson studied in Europe and Britain, then returned to the U.S. to take up portrait and landscape painting. An avid naturalist, he made extensive trips in South and Central America and the Caribbean (1863-1870), where he poduced luminous, meticulously detailed pictures of the tropical forests and landscapes. The New England coast and the rocky shore of Lake George, New York, also inspired notable paintings. He was a leading exponent of luminism.

Birth: Aug. 11, 1819, Lumberville, Pennsylvania
Death: Sep. 4, 1904, St. Augustine, Florida
Born and reared in Lumberville, a small rural community near Doylestown, in Buck's County, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest son in the large family of Joseph Cowell Heed, the owner of a farm and a lumber mill. The youth's first lessons in art were provided locally by Edward Hicks and probably also by Thomas Hicks, Edward's cousin, a rudimentary instruction apparently never replaced by more formal training. His earliest works were produced during the 1840s and were chiefly portraits. Martin travelled to Europe several times as a young man. Martin became artist who travelled from place to place on American shores, and exhibited in Philadelphia in 1841. Martin had friendships with artists of the Hudson River School and that later led to an interest in landscape art. He travelled to the tropics several times, and continued to paint birds and flowers. Heade married in 1883 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida. His chief works from this period were Floridian landscapes and flowers, particularly magnolias laid upon velvet cloth. Even though New York left an enduring mark on Heade's landscape painting and is the city to which he was most closely bound, he seems not to have put down deep roots even there, he never joined the National Academy of Design, not even as an Associate. Martin was not a widely known artist during his lifetime, but in the early twentieth century, his work attracted the notice of scholars, art historians, and collectors. He quickly became recognized as a major American artist. Although often considered a Hudson River School artist, some critics and scholars take exception to this categorization. His works are now in major museums and collections.
Burial: The Evergreens Cemetery, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, USA
Record added: Sep 15, 2003 - © Copyright Ownership:

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