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"Like the transcendentalist philosophers of his day, he revealed the spiritual forces of nature through the intensification of a luminous, mystical poetry of light."
-Express, April 1981
Forgotten for nearly forty years after his death in 1904, Martin Johnson Heade was rediscovered in a 1943 exhibition of American romanticism at the Museum of Modern Art. Best known as a painter of nature and landscapes, Heade is now considered one of the most important 19th century American artists. Heade's early work was heavily influenced by the Hudson River School, the first uniquely American tradition of landscape painting, which featured pastoral scenes and painstaking realism.
The mature Heade refined this tradition, focusing upon the depiction of light, especially on bodies of water, thus pioneering luminism, which flourished in America during the 1860s and 1870s. In Heade's paintings, which often depict stormy seas, the effect of light is almost surreal. Intrigued by nature, Heade also painted many flowers and birds, especially hummingbirds. In the 1860s he planned a book, in the tradition of John James Audubon, featuring the hummingbirds of South America.
Born and raised in Lumberville, Bucks County, Heade moved frequently. He resided in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, and traveled across Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and the American West. In 1884, at the age of 64, Heade settled in St. Augustine, Florida .
Thomas Hicks (1823-1890), Portrait of Martin J. Heade As A Young Man, ca. 1840s. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the Bucks County Historical Society.
Education and Training
Apprenticed to Bucks County Naive painter Edward Hicks, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 1838-1839. He also studied with Thomas Hicks.
Study in England, France, Italy, 1839
Three expeditions to South America, 1863, 1866, 1870
Teachers and Influences
Edward Hicks, Thomas Hicks
William Sidney Mount, James G. Clonney, genre painters.
Frederick Church, of the Hudson River School, was a longtime friend , as well as Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand.
Connection to Bucks County
Born and raised in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, Heade first studied painting in Newtown with Edward and Thomas Hicks. The latter, a teenaged prodigy, taught him portraiture. In his early years Heade, like his mentor, painted portraits, adopting a similarly naive style. Heade painted several subjects from Bucks County, including New Hope resident Samuel Ingham, who had been Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson. The geography of Lumberville profoundly affected Heade. Growing up alongside the Delaware River, young Heade developed his enduring fascination with nature and travel. Although Heade traveled extensively in adulthood and finally settled in St. Augustine, Florida in 1884. He often returned to Bucks County to see his cherished family and friends. The Heade family owned the building that is presently The Lumberville Store. It is believed that Martin Johnson Heade was born there. A commemorator historical marker was erected at the location in 2004, the same year as a commemorative Heade postal stamp was issued.
Major Solo Exhibitions
Matin Johnson Heade, The Floral and Hummingbird Studies from the St. Augustine Historical Society, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Florida, 1992; Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach, Florida, 1998
Martin Johnson Heade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 1999; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 2000; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, 2000
Major Group Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1841, 1844, 1847, 1849, 1855, 1856, 1861, 1868, 1880, 1881
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, 1843, 1852, 1860, 1861, 1862, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1870, 1871, 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1889
American Art Union, New York, New York, 1847
Western Art Union, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1850
Royal Academy, London, England, 1865
British Institution, London, England, 1865
The Boston Athenaeum, Boston, Massachusetts,1857, 1858, 1859, 1865, 1869, 1873
Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1876
Brooklyn Art Association, New York, New York, 1864, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1871, 1872, 1874, 1876, 1877, 1880
"As an accurate and graceful illustrator of natural history, Heade attained a special reputation; his delineation of birds and flowers is remarkable for the most faithful drawing and exquisite color."
Driven by wanderlust, Martin Johnson Heade traveled to many remote locales, including California, Florida, England, and Italy. Perhaps the most exotic and artistically influential of his voyages, however, were his three trips to South America and the Caribbean during the 1860s.
Heade's fascination with nature motivated his visits to South America. Intrigued since boyhood by flowers and birds, especially hummingbirds, Heade dreamed of observing the wildlife of South America. Heade's friends, the artist Frederic Church and the Reverend James C. Fletcher, encouraged him to depict this flora and fauna in a book of chromolithographs, or colored plates, in the style of John James Audubon. Although Heade never completed this book, he painted several pictures of hummingbirds amidst the lush plant life of South America. His sensuous, suggestive portrayal of these birds raised the objections of his prudish contemporaries.
Heade's visits to South America increased both his scope and his stature as a painter. Introduced by Fletcher, he befriended Dom Pedro II, the emperor of Brazil, who was so impressed with his work that he engaged the artist as a court painter, commissioning Heade to do portraits of the emperor's inner circle, and dubbed him a knight of the Order of the Rose. Painting several South American and Caribbean landscapes, Heade developed a fascination with the tropics that ultimately motivated him to settle in Florida.
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Court Painter, Court of Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, 1863-1864
Order of the Rose, by Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, 1864
Affiliations and Memberships
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Founding Member, Bucks County Historical Society, 1880
Mercer Museum Member
Founder, Academy of Natural Sciences
Member, Doylestown Nature Club
Member, American Philosophical Society, 1895
"Luminism is American landscape at its most poetic, for it depicts such quiet, touching moments as the calm of an Indian summer day or the poignancy of a perfect twilight."
-Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr.
A romantic, or sentimental, love of nature, coupled with an interest in America's vast territories, led to the rise of landscape painting in the United States during the 1850s. The Hudson River School of landscape painting spawned luminism, which focused primarily upon the portrayal of light within a landscape. Never self-consciously forming a movement, luminist painters included Fitz Hugh Lane, John Frederick Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford, and, most importantly, Martin Johnson Heade.
The composition of luminist paintings accentuates light. The paintings' finely detailed middle distance, painted with imperceptibly small brushstrokes, leads the viewer's eye to the horizon and upward to the sky, with its spreading glow. Luminist paintings often depict the effects of light upon bodies of water. Heade's seascapes, most notably Approaching Storm: Beach Near Newport, are often stormy, creating an almost surreal sense of tumult suffused with eerie light.
Luminist painting was important as a transitional movement, insofar as it paved the way for Impressionism, which further probed the effects of light upon a landscape. By becoming more abstract and painterly, that is, by focusing more upon the act of painting a landscape than upon the light infusing the landscape, Impressionism pushed the fundamental impulse of luminism toward Modernism.