Martin Johnson Heade 1819-1904
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Martin Johnson Heade’s long and varied career began around 1837 under the instruction of Edward Hicks. Despite a few early successes—portraiture commissions in Washington, D.C., and other minor accolades —Heade wouldn’t emerge into his full mature style until nearly two decades later. Shaking off the Peaceable Kingdom painter’s folk stamp, Heade began in 1858 several series of canvases, where he studiously observed nature and remade himself as an artist. It could not have hurt his development that at the same time he moved his studio into the Tenth Street Studio building in New York, where his neighbor Frederic Edwin Church must have influenced his rapid progress. In addition to gaining a stunning clarity and boldness for atmospheric effects, Heade visited South America in the 1860s, prompted by Church’s success as an “artist-adventurer.”

Between 1863 and 1870, Heade made three treks to the tropics, but unlike his Hudson River School peers, he skipped the volcanic mountains of Ecuador in favor of the hummingbirds of Rio de Janeiro. The immediate years of work before the visit suggest Heade’s difference in temperament. As a painter of landscapes, Heade often elided identifying landmarks, turning away from natural splendors that captured the imaginations of the Hudson River School. On a painting expedition in Vermont in 1860, Heade reported that he had “seen nothing that I cared to sketch” [as quoted in Stebbins (2000), p. 6]. His preference, if the number of canvases in his oeuvre is any indication, was for the comparatively anonymous New England salt marsh, of which he painted more than one hundred twenty.