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Martin Johnson Heade

 (1819 - 1904)
Martin Johnson Heade was active/lived in New York, California, Florida / Brazil.  Martin Heade is known for sea-landscape painting, hummingbirds, orchids.

Martin Johnson Heade

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Biography from the Archives of askART

An artist whose body of work ranges from Victorian floral still lifes, to tropical salt marshes to close examinations of flowers and hummingbirds, Martin Heade is one of the better-known and more widely-traveled American artists of the 19th Century.  He lived in various parts of the United States including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and he also traveled in Europe and extensively in South America where he visited Brazil, Nicaragua, Columbia, Pueto Rico and Jamaica..

Heade was born in rural Pennsylvania and began his career as a portrait painter, studying with Quaker painters Edward and Thomas Hicks.  His early landscapes were rather amateur Hudson-River-Style views, but became much more professional with landscape subjects by the 1850s.  He also became fascinated by hummingbirds, a subject some historians describe as an obsession.  From 1865 to 1875, he painted a limited number of elaborate table top still lifes, and very late in his career, did lush botanical still lifes, especially in Florida.

While he was achieving success as a portrait painter in the 1840s and 50s, Martin Heade traveled continuously in Europe and America.  In the late 1850s, he moved to New York City and focused on landscape and shore scenes, inspired by the salt marshes around the Narragansett Bay region of Rhode Island.  More than 100 are extant, and they are categorized stylistically as luminist because they convey sombre, contemplative mood.

In 1863, he made the first of three trips to South America, first to find subject matter for illustrations on his book on hummingbirds.  The book was rejected by publishers, so in the 1870s, he began paintings hummingbirds and orchids together in lush tropical settings.  This subject matter was very startling to viewers because it was highly sensual as well as unprecedented.  In 1884, twenty years before he died, Heade settled in St. Augustine, Florida, painting seascapes, birds and still lifes, especially magnolias and cherokee roses.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
His works are located at:
Brown University:
1. Oil portrait, "Abraham Whipple" (acc.# BP167) (Lib. Annex)
2. Oil portrait, "Henry Wheaton" (1857) (acc.# BP013) (Hay Lib.)
3. Oil portrait, "Esek Hopkins" (1857) (unlocated as of 2007)

Rhode Island Historical Society:
1. Oil portrait, "Bishop Thomas March Clark" (ca. 1857-58) (acc.# 1890.3.1)
2. Oil portrait, "Moses Brown" (acc.# 1981.11.1)

1. Oil painting on canvas, "Brazilian Forest Scene" (1864) (acc.# 68.052)
2. Oil painting on canvas, "Newburyport Marshes, Sunset" (ca. 1875-1885) (acc.# EL002.80)

Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections by Elinor L. Nacheman

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Lumberville, Pennsylvania on Aug. 11, 1819, Martin Johnson Heade studied under Thomas Hicks and for several years in Italy, France, and England.  He began his career as a portraitist in St. Louis and other American cities.

It was after his move to New York City in the 1850s that he abandoned portraiture in favor of landscapes and coastals.  Heade traveled widely and was in California in 1875. His oil Seal Rocks in the Oakland Museum is his only known California painting.

About 1885, he settled in St. Augustine, Florida, and remained there until his death on Sept. 4, 1904.  Until 1943 his works were in eclipse, but today he is nationally known for his tropical landscapes, nature studies, and still lifes.

San Francisco Art Association 1875. I

Collection: Boston Museum.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery
A significant figure in the history of American Luminism and American still life painting, Martin Johnson Heade was born in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, town of Lumberville, the oldest of eight children born to Joseph Cowell Heed and his wife Sarah Johnson Heed.  Deciding on painting as a career as a young child, Heade sought instruction from his Quaker neighbor, the folk painter Edward Hicks.  Under Hicks's influence, Heade created his first works, portraits rendered in a flat, primitive style.

In 1837, Heade went abroad, visiting Rome, England, and France.  On his return two years later, he continued to create portraits and landscapes and was still working in a crude, simplified manner.  But, after a second trip to Europe in 1848, Heade developed a more sophisticated handling, and he widened his range of subjects to include genre painting and figures rendered in a neoclassical style.  It was at this time that the artist changed his last name to "Heade," using this name to sign his works.

During the 1840s, Heade moved frequently, living in Philadelphia, New York, and Brooklyn.  In the next decade, his efforts were concentrated in Chicago, Trenton, and Providence.  He also visited St. Louis, on the western frontier.  At the end of the decade he moved to New York, and rented accommodations in the Tenth Street Studio building.  Close contact with leading artists of the day, who were also residents in the Tenth Street building, such as Frederic Church, inspired Heade to focus on landscape painting.  Church's influence on Heade is evident in views of sunset-infused wilderness sites that Heade painted in the early 1860s.

Heade's quiet, light filled, and minutely detailed views of Lake George are characteristic of the American Luminist style and are similar to images by John Kensett of the same locale.  During the 1860s, Heade began to specialize in the images of salt marshes for which he is well known and, in course of painting these subjects, his style matured.  Heade found his marsh subjects in a number of locales, including Newbury, Massachusetts; Rhode Island; New Jersey; and eventually Florida.  In 1867-1868, Heade made a series of exquisite charcoal drawings of haystacks on the Plum Island River, east of the town of Newbury.

While living in Boston from 1861-1863, Heade focused on marine scenes, depicting deserted coastlines with occasional sailboats in a landscape's distance and abandoned boats on the foreground shore.  Heade's imagery as well as the feeling of stillness and melancholy expressed in these works suggests that Heade was familiar with similar depictions by Fitz Hugh Lane.  However, the brooding and foreboding moods in images such as Heade's Thunderstorm Over Narragansett Bay, (1868; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas), belongs solely to Heade.  Heade was also especially adept at noting fleeting qualities in nature.

It was not until 1863 that Heade created his first still life, and at the end of that year, he traveled to Brazil, where he further explored the still-life theme in a series of small pictures featuring various species of native hummingbirds.  A trip to London to have these images reproduced in book form met with failure, and Heade returned to South and Central America in 1866 and 1870.  These trips yielded a number of tropical landscapes, but their most significant result was the series of orchid and hummingbird images that Heade worked on until his death.

From 1866 to 1881, Heade was based in New York City and produced the majority of his work in the studio.  At this time, he acquired a number of patrons and received some critical acclaim.  In 1883, Heade moved to St. Augustine, Florida and, at age sixty-four, he got married.  Following his marriage, he produced several new floral still life series as well as a number of his most ambitious landscapes.  At the end of his life, Heade was still a prolific painter although, after moving south, his work was forgotten by the public.  It was only in the 1940s that the first study of the artist was produced, and this study began the rediscovery of Heade's art which has continued in recent decades.[1]

Heade is represented in major private and public collections across the country including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine; Brooklyn Museum; Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cleveland Museum of Art; Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville, Florida; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; William E. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, Connecticut; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; New Britain Museum, Connecticut; New York Historical Society; Oakland Art Museum, California; Philadelphia Museum of Art; St. Louis Art Museum; Shelburne Museum, Vermont; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.

Lisa N. Peters

1. The first monograph on Heade is Robert G. McIntyre, Martin Johnson Heade (New York: Pantheon Press, 1948). A more recent study is Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975).

Copyright* The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery LLC and may not be reproduced in whole or in part, without written permission from Spanierman Gallery LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery LLC.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Renowned for his Luminist landscapes, particularly of storms at sea and northeastern salt marshes, as well as exquisite still life paintings, Martin Johnson Heade (originally Heed) was a versatile and exceptionally talented nineteenth-century American artist. He developed an original body of work in which atmospheric effects and exotic flowers and birds, closely observed, convey his vivid sense of the fleeting, fragile beauty of the natural world. Today, Heade's meticulously painted canvases continue to enchant us with their opulent surfaces, rich textures, and jewel-like details.

The variety of Heade's subjects was partly due to his peripatetic lifestyle.  Born in 1819 in Lumberville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, he trained in his early youth with the local Quaker painter Edward Hicks (1780-1849).  After returning from an extended European trip between 1840 and 1842, he spent the next six years painting portraits and moving along the East Coast from New York to Trenton, Brooklyn, Richmond, and Philadelphia.  In 1848 he set sail for a second long trip to Europe. His return to America in 1850 left him no more settled than before, and he continued to travel about and lived for brief periods in the cities of St. Louis, Trenton, Providence, and New Haven.  It was in this decade that Heade turned to landscape painting.  He began exploring the effects of light upon on the environment, an interest shared by other American Luminists including John C. Kensett, Fitz Hugh Lane and Sanford Gifford.

In 1859 Heade took a studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio building in New York where he met Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), the Hudson River School painter noted for his panoramic vistas of Ecuador and Colombia.  Church became one of Heade's few close associates in the American art world, and it was probably Church who encouraged Heade to make his first visit to the southern hemisphere.  In 1863 Heade set off for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He made several subsequent trips to Latin America and the tropics visiting Nicaragua, Colombia, Panama, and Jamaica.  In these journeys Heade explored the local flora and fauna, painting both large landscapes and small paintings of hummingbirds and orchids, which won him acclaim at gallery exhibitions in New York and Boston. Heade's work from this period includes the series Gems of Brazil (1863 to 1864; created for an unrealized book), Hummingbird and Passion Flowers (1875 to 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Orchids, Passion Flowers and Hummingbird (1875 to 1885; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York).

In 1883, at the age of sixty-four, Heade married in New York and moved to St. Augustine, Florida.  He lived there for the rest of his life and continued to exhibit his work in northern cities like Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts.  In 1885 at the invitation of his patron Henry Morrison Flager, the oil tycoon and hotel magnate, Heade set up his last studio in a building behind Flager's Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, and painted there until the very end of his life.  In his two decades in St. Augustine, Heade was fascinated by the tropical flora of Florida. He painted Cherokee roses, orchids, and magnolias, often depicting the same flower over and over in various states of bloom in different compositions.

Like his earlier studies of tropical flowers, paintings of Heade's mature period capture their botanical subjects with almost scientific accuracy, noting every line on every leaf, every particular mark and facet on every fruit or blossom.  Unlike the earlier work, however, the later paintings rarely show subjects alive in their natural environments.  After his move to St. Augustine, most of Heade's floral still lifes depict flowers and, occasionally, fruit against plush velvet backdrops.  Clipped and propped before the artist's canvas, these lush, yet soon-to-wither specimens are a poignant contribution to the centuries-old genre of vanitas still lifes.

Heade's work can be found in the collections of many major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  With several dozen paintings as well as numerous drawings and sketchbooks, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston holds the largest collection of his work. In 1999 and 2000 Heade was the subject of a major traveling exhibition curated by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. Today, interest in this important American artist remains strong—in 2004, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Martin Johnson Heade stamp.

Stebbins Jr., Theodore E.  The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
Stebbins Jr., Theodore E.  Martin Johnson Heade.  Boston: Museum of Fine Art, 1999.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.
Martin Johnson Heade was born August 11, 1819, in rural Lumberville (Bucks County, PA). At the age of twenty-two he went to Italy and England and began a career as a portrait painter but his attention quickly turned to the landscape. He opened a studio in New York (1843) and four years later he opened a studio in Philadelphia and exhibited Sleepy Fishermen at the American Art Union (1847) and in St. Louis (1852). In 1853 he invested in Chicago real estate and then returned to Trenton (NJ, 1856-59).

From 1859-1866 he worked out of "The Old Tenth Street Studio" at 15 West Tenth Street in NYC and he occasionally worked in Boston's Studio Building finished paintings from sketches he had made of the coastline in and around Newport (RI), Lake Champlain and Fryeburg (ME). From 1843-1890 he exhibited at the NAD and elsewhere.

In 1863, Heade's interests in ornithology, entomology, botany and scenery culminated when he accompanied naturalist Reverend J.C. Fletcher to Brazil in hopes of illustrating a book titled "The Gems of Brazil" (of hummingbirds of South American) but the book never was published due to printing problems with chromolithographs.

Nevertheless, his birds and flowers were exhibited in Rio de Janeiro and the Emperor Don Pedro II presented Heade with the Order of the Rose. In 1865 Heade sold the group of paintings to Sir Morton Peto and traveled to Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Jamaica and throughout the U.S. to sketch and paint. He settled in St. Augustine (FL) in 1881 and died there September 4, 1904.

The artist received the Medaille d'Honneur, La Haye prior to 1870 (no record) and two medals in Boston (1874, 1878) after exhibiting at the Athenaeum.

Heade is best known for his paintings of orchids, hummingbirds, Florida sunsets, haystacks near winding rivers and marshfield meadows, tropical marshes, cherokee roses, water lilies, magnolias and cattle near hay saddles. Stebbins calls Heade "a romantic masquerading as a realist."

From September 29,1999 through January 17, 2000 the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) held a "Martin Johnson Heade" exhibition and a book by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. accompanied it. The MFA previously held Heade solo exhibitions in 1969 and 1975.

Bibliography: McIntyre, Robert C., Martin Johnson Heade (NY: 1948); "Commemorative Exhibition, Paintings by Martin J. Heade & Fitz Hugh Lane," M. Knoedler & Co., NYC, 1954; "Martin Johnson Heade, 1819-1904," exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1955; "Martin Johnson Heade," exh. Cat., The Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville (1981 touring); Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life Work of Martin Johnson Heade (Yale Univ. Press, 1975)

Patricia Jobe Pierce, historian

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About  Martin Johnson Heade

Born:  1819 - Lumberville, Pennsylvania
Died:   1904 - St Augustine, Florida
Known for:  sea-landscape painting, hummingbirds, orchids

Essays referring to
Martin Johnson Heade

Hudson River School Painters
Painted in Latin America