Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Boston, MA



Martin Johnson Heade


Martin Johnson Heade, organized by and premiering at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from September 29, 1999 through January 17, 2000, is a landmark exhibition that sheds new light on one of America's most original artists. This exhibition has been organized by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Chair the Art of the Americas at the Museum. The last Heade retrospective was organized by Stebbins for the MFA in 1969, and the new show is based on the extensive research and numerous discoveries that have been made in recent years.

Practically unknown in his own day, Heade today is widely recognized as one of the greatest American romantic painters, and is unique in having been equally able as a landscape painter and as a master of the floral still life. The exhibition, on view in the Torf Gallery, includes all aspects of Heade's work, from his tranquil marsh scenes and dramatic seascapes from New England, to his lush images of orchids and hummingbirds in South America and vivid depictions of magnolias from Florida. The Boston presentation is supplemented by additional works from the MFA's extensive Heade collection to form an exhibition of more than 90 works in all, including sketchbooks, early portraits and landscapes as well as original the chromolithographs that were produced for Heade's unrealized book, Gems of Brazil.

The MFA, the leading center for the study of Martin Johnson Heade, is contributing eight works to this exhibition, including works from the Museum's important Karolik collection, with other paintings coming from important public and private collections across the nation -- many of which have never been shown to the public before. After opening at the MFA, the exhibition will travel to the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"Martin Johnson Heade is sure to give new insights into the work of one of the most intriguing of American artists, whose paintings have a strange and almost surreal intensity," said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "The new research uncovered by Ted Stebbins and his MFA colleagues, in both the exhibition catalogue and the catalogue raisonné, is crucial to the ongoing understanding of this prolific American painter."

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, cat. 8), that this inventive and prolific artist once again became collected and studied.

In 1975, Stebbins, then a professor and curator at Yale University, published the first full-length study of the artist. Stebbins, the preeminent authority on Heade, has continued his research over the past 30 years. This exhibition, Martin Johnson Heade, is the culmination of this study, and includes a number of recently discovered works.

"Heade was one of America's most productive and inventive artists, and his work reflects a wide range of talent and creativity," said Stebbins. "Heade captures such a variety of moods, from his atmospheric effects, the glory of his light, 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 as more and more people are introduced to these superb paintings."


Exhibition Overview

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 for Gems of Brazil and the sensual magnolia images that he specialized in after moving to Florida in 1883.

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 individual approaches to these traditional themes.



In 1859 Heade produced one of his first marine paintings, Approaching Thunder Storm (1859, cat. 1) 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 Storm on Narragansett Bay (1868, cat. 8), a key picture in the rediscovery of Heade, as well as Approaching Storm: Beach Near Newport (1881-62, cat. 4) one of the best-known of all of his works. Also on view is Seascape Sunrise (1860, cat. 2), a recently discovered work and one that has not been on 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 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. 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, cat. 16) and the peaceful Marshfield Meadow (1877-78, cat. 18).

This gallery 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, cat. 20) depicts one of the most popular subjects of landscape painters, but Heade's rendition illuminates 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 lush Adirondacks.


The Tropics

Heade made three trips to countries in Latin America between 1863 and 1870. This gallery 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 places like Rio de Janeiro Bay and Jamaica including Sunset: Harbor at Rio (1864, cat. 23). Also on view in this gallery is one of Heade's most magnificent landscapes, View From Fern-Tree Walk, Jamaica (1887, cat. 24), one of the largest works Heade ever produced (4 1/2 feet x 7 1/2 feet), commissioned by the Florida developer Henry Morrison Flagler and now owned by the renowned Manoogian Collection in Detroit.

In South America Heade's main purpose 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. However, four hummingbird chromolithographs
were produced for the book and are on view in Boston, as well as 16 paintings possibly intended for Gems of Brazil from the Manoogian Collection.

This gallery also features Heade's unique paintings of passion flowers and orchids. In his final trip to Latin America 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, cat. 54), 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 his death in 1904. Heade created more than 150 works in 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, cat. 69), a work that was recently discovered at an estate sale before being sold for over one million dollars, as well as the magnificent Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, recently purchased by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

MFA Collection

In 1945, MFA patron Maxim Karolik, who was convinced of the importance of the then little-known mid-19th-century artists such as Martin Johnson Heade and Fitz Hugh Lane, purchased his first Heade, Approaching Storm: Beach near Newport, and gave it to the Museum. Karolik eventually donated more then 30 works by Heade to the MFA, forming the preeminent collection of Heade's work, and making the Museum the major center for the study of the artist.


Catalogue and Catalogue Raisonné

An accompanying book for this exhibition has been published by the MFA in conjunction with Yale University Press. This 208-page exhibition catalogue, Martin Johnson Heade, includes an introduction and essay by curator Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. as well as contributions by curatorial and conservation colleagues. This catalogue, on sale at the Museum Bookstore and Shop, includes 112 color reproductions.

A second book by Stebbins, The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade, A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, will also be published in 1999. Here Stebbins builds upon his groundbreaking 1975 study of Heade, drawing on several newly discovered collections of Heade's letters and the painter's own Brazilian journal. Stebbins brings new perspective to Heade and his works, presenting him as one of the most original and productive painters of his time. The beautiful, 496-page book includes reproductions of all of Heade's 620 known paintings, including nearly 250 that have been discovered since 1975. The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade, A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, published by Yale University Press, will be on sale at the MFA Bookstore and Shop in the fall.


Support for the exhibition and accompanying catalogue has been provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, the United Company, and the Vira I. Heinz Endowment. The media sponsor in Boston is Time Inc.


Organization and Tour

Martin Johnson Heade was organized by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Chair, Art of the Americas, along with research fellow Karen Quinn and curatorial assistant Janet Comey. Venues of this exhibition's national tour include:

· Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: September 29 - January 16, 2000

· National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.: February 13 - May 7, 2000

· Los Angeles County Museum of Art: May 28 - August 17, 2000


Images from top to bottom: Approaching Storm: Beach Near Newport, c. 1861-63, oil on canvas, 28 x 58 1/4 inches, Gift of Mrs. Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865, MFA 455.889; Lake George, 1892, oil on canvas, 26 x 49 3/4 inches, Bequest of Mrs. Maxim Karolik, MFA 64.430; Roses and Heliotrope in a Vase on a Marble Tabletop, 1862, oil on board, 13 7/8 x 10 5/8 inches, lent anonymously, MFA, Loan; April Showers, 1868, oil on canvas, 18 7/8 x 40 1/4 inches, Gift of Mrs. Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865, MFA 47.1173.


Read more about the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in Resource Library Magazine.

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

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