Friday, March 4, 2011

Martin Johnson Heade & The Long View

Martin Johnson Heade, Sailing By Moonlight, c. 1860

Virtually unknown during his lifetime, Martin Johnson Heade is now recognized as one of the more innovative American landscape painters of the nineteenth century.

Martin Johnson Heade, Seascape, c. 1858

He's all about eerie color, contrast and mood. There's plenty that's unusual about Heade: he excelled both at emotive panoramic landscapes and precise renditions of exotic flora, despite being self-taught except for what he learned from primitive painter Ed Hicks.

Martin Johnson Heade, Blue Morpho Butterfly, 1864-5

As exotic as his subject matter could get, Heade painted hundreds of views of salt marshes, many in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which is not far from where I live.

Martin Johnson Heade, Salt Marsh, Newburyport, Mass. c. 1865

This is Lake George, a subject treated by dozens of artists, but Heade chose a little-known spot from which to paint it, and the tonal colors he used would be more at home in a desert.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has this landscape on display in their new American wing:

Martin Johnson Heade, April Showers, 1868

They point out that it's really a study of the storm clouds moving in the background. "Heade's real subject here is the shifting character of light in the rain," reads the MFA placard. "The air is moist and heavy, and Heade indicates the rain that falls in spots over the hills with delicate, shadowy plumes that look almost like smoke." Here's a closer look at the clouds:

Detail: Martin Johnson Heade, April Showers, 1868

And here's the foreground and middlegrounds - just look at all that detail.

Detail: Martin Johnson Heade, April Showers, 1868

The delicate colors and the light and shadows in this thing are what blow me away. What I guess I love about Heade is how he gives a ton of compositional space to the sky and still goes crazy precise with the details of things on the ground - even when the ground is nearly a flat plain - sort of mixing both ends of his talent's spectrum, I guess.

I'm trying an adaptation of that style myself in a series of landscapes I'm working on. Usually I'm content with the suggestion of detail in the areas that aren't the main focus, but I'm suddenly really interested in trying to paint detail for its own sake. I like the idea of a "big sky" composition that's sort of a fake-out- in that, despite occupying two-thirds of the canvas, in terms of detail the sky's not the main attraction, the ground is.

Montauk- painting in progress


  1. Thanks for giving a little love to Heade- very underrated in my opinion. He was one of the first 19th century artists to really paint Florida (my home state) so he holds a special place in my artistic pantheon.

  2. I've just published an article in a scholarly journal on one of Heade's colleagues, a Miss Maria J. C. a'Becket, who also painted in Florida. They basically shared studio space for a while during the 1890s, as they were both artists-in-residence at one of Henry Flagler's St. Augustine hotels. Do you know her work? Have you been to the Flagler museum in St. Augustine?

  3. As always, a huge pleasure to read your blog. Thanks for doing this!

  4. Interesting to see the path in your painting leading out to the right. By placing my hand over the right side of the path it completely changes the look of the painting, makes it a softer looking landscape. The sky is well into the distance, that is successful, the perspective in this is really good. Beautifully painted and delicate looking.
    Heade's work is really magical, thanks for sharing.

  5. Thank you Chris, for the wonderful articles on Heade and Jungblut. Excellent reading and thank you for making the effort to educate we observers!
    Your "Montauk" adaptation looks beautiful. I eagerly await its completion along with the others in this series.

  6. I tried to post this on yr orpheus and eurydice site- it said my url was illegal?!?!?!?!?!?
    if u make it that difficult- who cares

    orpheus and eurydice 1


    My home is near the falls, near surf,

    The rapids as past Salmon Falls past White Foam Bar,

    And when I sleep the roaring's through my arms,

    Like when I hold a second pillow- where you used to sleep!

    A giant bell of it: "bong, bong"- the way life is here-

    Rolling me up in long combers of surf-

    Off-white like crab meat but glowing,

    That crawl forward, one after one. I sleep

    Climbing the falls, up behind its

    Curtains of roaring blown by me-

    Incessant, incandescent- to the cave halfway up

    Where I find my heart missing already

    For centuries.. Lorna Doone's gone and now you.

    Other losses I can get over, not this one, why should I?

    For the falls slant and the beach curvwes away-

    Some rocks glow under black light-

    Tail of white deer flashed, is long gone,

    Idaho silver, the Coeur d'Alene mine abandoned...

    Like wind blows out curtains in a million old rooms

    Water fashions a new lover to lie next to me.

    I'm glad it* will turn into a headstone.

    I hope it doesn't turn into a headstone!

    * she?

    I wanted to be drenched in the Rachmaninoff.

    Certain words wanted to make it into the poem but couldn't, so as a courtesty, I'll list them: flechette, crevasse, Versailles, hiss...hisss

    2 Last Poem to Eurydice

    Riches starting to come my way again...

    Possible lovers to want me....

    Want me to takes time, it takes time....

    But March comes, all that gold stuff, gold things,

    Increasing the gold til it all sings.

    Love will come by the summer.

    Laminates of gold, gold wrenches,

    Tooth inlays and onlays, how Hundertwasser painted,

    Yeat's poem "Golden Apples", Dave van Ronk sang.

    Maybe a muse but more likely some

    Warm, humid peaty sourish smell of real

    Sutters creek*, twang, ren, fiddle

    Vein of them heading off into Sierra.

    I'd pan all the way to Mt. Hood looking

    The back creeks for the calmness

    Before they start singing, the sluice way

    Down the gate rungs, Multnomah

    County, Sonoma, Sonora, Sonesta,

    How you linger, yeah I see how

    That memry comes up now, begins to

    Take shape, how it lay there

    Like an ore seam; now I know where

    It lies, where you lie- the riches.

    You be no further than here, you descend you

    Between me, having become where

    I look now and again just for singing.

    david eberhardt

    otherwise site seems nice enough

  7. wld like to alert you to the edmonton artist- ian sheldon- chk him out for stormy landscapes

    nice work of yr own chris

    dave eberhardt
    baltimore, md

  8. Wow Anonymous, you're right on with Dave Eberhardt- thanks for the tip. I especially love his interiors of abandoned buildings. Thanks

  9. ومتميز هو ما سيجعل العملاء يرغبون ويريدون التعاقد معنا سواء في شركة تخزين اثاث بالرياض أو من خلال التعاقدات الآخري لأحد شركة تنظيف عمالة فلبينية بالرياض التابعة لنا فكن مطمئن مائة بالمائة ستجد جميع الأشياء على ما يرام فلدينا أسطول عمل من أفضل العُمال المدربون على أعلى التقنيات الحديثة والمتطورة فى نقل الأثاث والذى سيجعل لك منزلك الجديد صالح للسكن وذو رائحة طيبة بأسرع وقت محتمل دون حدوث أى تلفيات أو خدوش للأثاث.
    شركة نقل عفش من الرياض الى بريدة

    شركة نقل اثاث من الرياض الى القصيم

    شركة نقل عفش من الرياض الى حائل