Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles, CA


left: Main Museum Complex, right: LACMA West, photos, ©1999 John Hazeltine



Martin Johnson Heade at LACMA


Practically unknown in his own day, Martin Johnson Heade is now widely recognized as one of the greatest American romantic painters, equally adept as a landscape artist and as a master of the floral still life. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art - LACMA - presents Martin Johnson Heade, a landmark exhibition that sheds new light an one of America's most original artists. On view from May 28 through August 13, 2000, the exhibition includes approximately 70 works that explore all aspects of Heade's career, from his dramatic seascapes from New England and tranquil marsh scenes, to his lush images of orchids and hummingbirds in South America and vivid depictions of magnolias from Florida. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the exhibition is based on the extensive research and numerous discoveries that have been made in recent years. (left: Magnoliae Grandiflorae, 1888, oil on canvas, Collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Heade, whose career spanned almost 70 years, produced perhaps the most varied body of work of any American painter of the 19th century. He captured the beauty of nature - from the Massachusetts coastline to the depths of the Brazilian jungle. Yet, in his own lifetime, he was not considered a major artist, and following his death in 1904 he was nearly forgotten. It was not until 1943, with the rediscovery of Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay (1868), that this innovative and prolific artist once again became collected and studied. (right: Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds, c. 1875-85, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

"Heade was one of America's most productive and inventive artists, and his work reflects a wide range of talent and creativity," said Ilene Susan Fort, LACMA curator of American Art. "Heade captures such a variety of moods, from his atmospheric effects and the glory of his light, to the sumptuous warmth of his orchids and tropical scenes, and the inexplicable sensuality of so many of his works in every genre. I hope recognition of his genius grows more and more as people are introduced to these superb paintings." (right: Hayfields: A Clear Day, c. 1871-80, oil on canvas, Collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Heade was a remarkably original painter, and this exhibition exemplifies his dexterity in all subjects - landscapes, marine and still-lifes. Included in the exhibition are the greatest of Heade's evocative marsh scenes, his powerful thunderstorms at sea, radiant studies of flowers, luscious orchid and hummingbird compositions - a combination invented by Heade - as well as hummingbird studies and the sensual magnolia images that he specialized in after moving to Florida in 1883. (left: An Amethyst Hummingbird with a White Orchid, c. 1875-90, oil on canvas, Collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Heade was born in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and was the son of a farmer. He learned to paint from his neighbor, the folk artist Edward Hicks, and then traveled throughout America and Europe painting portraits, scenes of daily life, and copies of famous works of art. The turning point in Heade's career came in 1858 when he moved to the new Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, home to leading Hudson River School artists such as Frederic Edwin Church. In this company, Heade changed his art dramatically and began to specialize in landscapes and still-lifes, developing an individual approach to these traditional themes.



In 1859 Heade produced one of his first marine paintings, Approaching Thunder Storm (1859) which captures part of Narragansett Bay near Bristol, Rhode Island. The first gallery in the exhibition includes multiple images of the Northeast coast, including the dramatic Thunder Shorm on Narragansett Bay (1868), a key picture in the rediscovery of Heade, as well as Approaching Storm: Beach Near Newport (1881-62), one of the best-known of his works. Also on view is Seascape Sunrise (1860), a recently discovered work and one that has not been on public view before. This view of the coast of Newport, Rhode Island demonstrates the influence of the Hudson River School on Heade, but is also marked by Heade's roots in the tradition of folk painting.


Marshes and Landscapes

More than one-fifth of Heade's entire oeuvre is dedicated to northeastern salt marshes, accounting for more than 150 views. Heade began painting marshes in 1859, and continued to work on them until his death 45 years later. His favorite marshes were the ones in the adjoining towns of Newbury and Newburyport, but he also painted them in Rowley, Lynn, and Marshfield, Massachusetts, as well as in Connecticut and Long Island. Other landscape painters of Heade's era, such as Church and Albert Bierstadt, specialized in painting large-scale, dramatic views of such spectacular sights as the Rocky Mountains or Niagara Falls, illustrating the sublime power of nature. Heade demanded of himself originality, and although the marsh was familiar, it was a new subject for the American painter. It was also a place Heade loved, where he could study the subtleties of changing color and light, and the ways a winding tidal river or row of haystacks can lead the eye through a composition. There are several highlights in this gallery, including the newly discovered work Sunset Marsh (1868) and the peaceful Marshfield Meadow (1877-78).

This section of the exhibition also contains Heade's American landscapes, about one quarter of which represent inland views of mountains, lakes and valleys. At first glance, these works can be viewed as traditional compositions that can be associated with the Hudson River School, but on further investigation they are some of the most experimental of Heade's works. Lake George (1862) depicts one of the most popular subjects of landscape painters, but Heade's rendition illustrates how far away he was in style from the mainstream of the Hudson River School. His view of the scene does not capitalize on the favored view or cool colors of the Hudson River School, but focuses on a less distinctive side of the lake and employs colors associated with an arid desert rather than the verdant Adirondacks.


The Tropics

Heade made three trips to Latin America between 1863 and 1870. The third section of the exhibition represents three different series from these excursions: works of tropical landscapes; paintings of hummingbirds for his unrealized book, Gems of Brazil; and his unique compositions combining flowers and hummingbirds.

Probably inspired by Church's South American landscapes, Heade traveled to Brazil in 1863 to devote himself to painting the exotic and beautifully colored hummingbirds. While there, he created a few landscapes during a six-month sojourn to such places as Rio de Janeiro Bay and Jamaica including Sunset: Harbor at Rio (1864). Also on view in this gallery is one of Heade's most magnificent landscapes, View From Fern-Tree Walk, Jamaica (1887), one of the largest works Heade ever produced (4 feet by 7 feet), commissioned by the Florida developer Henry Morrison Flagler and now owned by the renowned Manoogian Collection in Detroit.

Heade's main purpose in South America was to capture the hummingbird. The Boston Transcript reported on August 12, 1863, "It is his [Heade's] intention in Brazil to depict the richest and most brilliant of the hummingbird family - about which he is so great an enthusiast - to prepare in London or Paris a large and elegant Album on these wonderful little creatures...He is only fulfilling a dream of his boyhood in doing so." Heade's hummingbird pictures were popular in Brazil, and more than 50 people bought subscriptions for the intended book. In the end, however, Heade could not secure the 200 subscriptions necessary to print his expensive book and it was never published.

This section also features Heade's unique paintings of passion flowers and orchids. In his final trip to Latin America and the Caribbean in 1870, Heade visited Colombia, Panama and Jamaica. During these trips, he began to make larger, more complex compositions combining hummingbirds and tropical flowers in landscape. An outgrowth of the Gems of Brazil compositions, these paintings are unusually vibrant in color and detail. One of the most unusual works is the recently-discovered Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds (1870), a complex composition of twined vines, leaves and tree branches. Within this flora and fauna are eight species of birds native to Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Jamaica and the West Indies.



At the age of 64, Heade settled in St. Augustine, Florida and married Elizabeth Smith. Henry Morrison Flagler, a partner of John D. Rockefeller's in the Standard Oil Company, discovered St. Augustine at about the same time and was determined to make it "the Newport of the South." In 1888 he opened the magnificent Hotel Ponce de Leon, including seven artist studios, which attracted potential buyers for the resident painters. Heade was invited to occupy one of these studios, and was supported and encouraged by Flagler until Heade's death in 1904. Heade created more than 150 works between 1883 and his death, focusing on the exuberant landscapes, flowers and fruits of the American South - yet another new subject for the painter. The exhibition concludes with five of Heade's sensuous magnolia blossoms, including Two Magnolias and a Bud on Teal Velvet (1885-95), a work that was recently discovered at an estate sale before being sold for over $I million, as well as the magnificent Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, recently purchased by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Read more about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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