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Martin Johnson Heade and the Hudson River School

Art historians have come to disagree with the common view that Martin Johnson Heade (-1819-1904) is a Hudson River School painter, a view given wide currency by Heade's inclusion in a landmark exhibition of Hudson River School landscapes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1987.
The leading Heade scholar and author of Heade's catalogue raisonne, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., wrote some years after the 1987 Hudson River School exhibition that "...other scholars-myself included-have increasingly come to doubt that Heade is most usefully seen as standing within that school".

According to the Heade catalogue raisonne, only around 40 percent of his paintings were landscapes. The remaining majority were still lifes, paintings of birds, and portraits, subjects unrelated to the Hudson River School. Of Heade's landscapes, perhaps only 25 percent were painted of traditional Hudson River School subject matter.

Heade had less interest in topographically accurate views than the Hudson River painters, and instead focused on mood and the effects of light. Stebbins writes, "If the paintings of the shore as well as the more conventional compositions...might lead one to think of Heade as a Hudson River School painter, the [marsh scenes] make it clear that he was not".

Transition To Landscape painting

Around 1857 Heade became interested in landscape painting, partly through his meeting of established artists John Frederick Kensett and Benjamin Champney in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Heade moved to New York City and took a studio in a building that housed many of the famous Hudson River School artists of the time.
He became socially and professionally acquainted with them, and struck up a particularly close friendship with Frederic Edwin Church.

Tropical subjects

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 to Brazil from 1863 to 1864 to paint an extensive series of small works, eventually numbering over forty, depicting hummingbirds.

He intended the series for a planned book titled "The Gems of Brazil", but the book was never published 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.
He continued to paint romantic works of tropical birds and lush foliage into his late career.

Salt marsh scenes

Heade's primary interest in landscape, and the works for which he is perhaps best known today, was the New England coastal salt marsh.
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 also concentrated on the depiction of light and atmosphere in his marsh scenes.
These and similar works have led some historians to characterize Heade as a Luminist painter.

In 1883 Heade moved to Saint Augustine, Florida and took as his primary landscape subject the surrounding subtropical marshland.

Still Lifes

During his later years in St. Augustine Heade also painted numerous still lifes of southern flowers, especially magnolia blossoms laid on velvet.
This was a continuation of an interest in still life that Heade had developed since the 1860s.

His earlier works in this genre typically depict a display of flowers arranged in an ornate vase of small or medium size on a cloth-covered table.
Heade was the only 19th century American artist to create such an extensive body of work in both still life and landscape. | Source: © www.Martin Johnson Heade.com