Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Born into a farming family in 1819 and raised in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, Martin Johnson Heade’s modest roots did not presume that he would ultimately enjoy the longest career of any nineteenth-century American painter and travel far beyond the boundaries of his home state.  Heade began painting around the age of eighteen and moved to New York in 1843; this change of location prompted a fifteen-year period during which he lived and journeyed throughout the United States and Europe, spending time in cities such as Rome, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington D.C., Trenton, Providence, and New Orleans.  The artist’s long relationship with Vose Galleries began in the late 1850s while he was painting in Rhode Island.  There he met Seth Vose, and the two became friends and colleagues; Vose represented Heade’s pictures from as early as 1860. 

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In late 1858 Heade settled in New York and took a studio at the popular Tenth Street Studio Building.  There he met the leading landscape artists of the day, including Frederic E. Church, who most likely influenced Heade’s lifelong interest in land- and seascape painting.  After leaving New York in 1862, the artist rented space in Boston’s newly-opened Studio Building.  Heade only lived in Boston for two years, but during this time he attracted positive reviews and explored the city’s north and south shores, painting the local marshlands and shorelines.  From the Studio Building, Heade wrote to Vose: “I have just sent by early express two pictures that I happened to have finished.  The one you may get 35 for & the other 20 or 25.  In a few days — about a week — I’ll send a large one, & a good one, & you must not let it go for less than 150.  Get more if you can.”

In 1863 Heade left Boston, and made the first of several trips to Central and South America.  Upon returning to New York, he produced some of his greatest landscapes and still life paintings, as well as a wealth of works featuring exotic flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies.  In the final period of his life, from 1883 until his death in 1904, Heade lived in St. Augustine, Florida, and married Elizabeth Smith, who was more than twenty years his junior.  Following a career that lasted over sixty years, Heade’s works have slowly but surely come to the forefront and he has been recognized as one of the most diverse artists of his time.  Paintings by the artist reside in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Amon Carter Museum, among others. 

References: Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., “Introducing Martin Johnson Heade” in Art News (Dec. 1978). See also Robert G. McIntyre, Martin Johnson Heade 1819-1904 (NY: Pantheon, 1948); Stebbins, The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975); Stebbins, Martin Johnson Heade (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999). 

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