DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE (American, 1819-1904)
Hummingbirds and Their Nest, 1863
Oil on artist's board
10-5/8 x 12-1/2 inches (27.0 x 31.8 cm)
Signed lower center: M.J. Heade and signed and dated on reverse: M. J. Heade 1863
Private collection, upstate New York;
Purchased from Christie's, New York, December 4, 1987, sale 6512, lot 70.
T. Stebbins, The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, 2000, no. 330, ill. p. 283.
This oval painting of ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) dates from 1863, the year of Martin Johnson Heade's trip to Brazil. That journey was the first of three he made to South America, a painters' mecca during the years leading up to, during, and following the American Civil War. (Following the trip to Brazil in 1863-1864, Heade went to Nicaragua in 1866 and to Columbia, Panama and Jamaica in 1870.) What prompted Heade to travel to Brazil in 1863 was his intention of creating a series of paintings which would provide the basis for a lavishly illustrated book in the manner of Audubon entitled Gems of Brazil. Heade was utterly fascinated by hummingbirds and recalled that "from early boyhood, I have been almost monomaniac about hummingbirds." Indeed, in one of his many letters to the magazine Forest and Stream, Heade noted in 1904 that he had raised and tamed hummingbirds for more than fifty years. One letter proudly reported how his tame hummingbird would perch on his finger and feed from a small bottle held by Heade's wife.
Heade completed 12 of the projected 20 paintings for the Gems of Brazil series (now in the Manoogian collection), which he had exhibited in Rio de Janeiro, and then transported directly to England where he tried to have them translated successfully into chromolithographs. The idea of publishing a costly, handsome volume dealing solely with hummingbirds so quickly on the tails of a multi-volume book devoted to the same subject published only a few years earlier by John Gould, speaks strongly of Heade's deep interest in the birds as well as his confidence in his ability to depict them. Sadly, the Gems of Brazil was never published for reasons still not entirely clear. One source suggests that Heade was never satisfied with the quality of the chromolithographs, and therefore abandoned the project. Nonetheless, in the wonderful paintings of hummingbirds and orchids which Heade left behind, we have a glimpse of the book he intended.
SUPPORT: The painting is executed on a 2mm thick prepared academy board which is gray on the back and primed on the face. There are no marks to distinguish the manufacturer or the supplier. The board was cut into this format from a larger piece of academy board such that only the bottom edge of the board appears to be the manufacturer's original edge (it is the cleanest cut). Below the top left corner of the board (not in the oval painting itself) is a small nail hole. The board has a slight concave warp that is not dangerous. The support is slightly brittle but gives no indication at all of delamination or splitting and is in very good condition. GROUND: The academy board has been primed with a warm tan oil-based ground which has a slight pebbly texture. The ground is in very good condition except for where it had been lightly abraded by contact with the frame (and subsequently inpainted). The gray priming on the back has been stained by contact with the wooden backing board against which it rested over the course of years such that it bears a transferred outline of a knot in the wood. PAINT FILM: The painting is executed in multiple layers of oleo-resinous paste vehicular colors. A base color of a brownish gray wash was quickly brushed on with short strokes to block in the area of design. Some areas, notably the center foreground, were tamped while wet to produce a "spotted" appearance. Infrared reflectography reveals some graphite underdrawing. There are no major changes in design except for an alteration in the position of the tailfeathers of the red-throated hummingbird. Given the very resinous, thin layers of paint which under the microscope sometimes appear to be "floating" on one another, the picture is in almost pristine condition. THE VERY THIN GLAZES ARE INTACT AND THE FEW AREAS OF IMPASTO ARE UNDAMAGED. The signature is extremely thin but is perfectly preserved. In April of 1988, Judge Buchanan engaged David A. Miller, Senior Conservator of Paintings at the Indianapolis Museum of Art to examine this painting under laboratory conditions (for which he prepared a condition report upon which the foregoing is based), and recommend any treatment. As a result of his examination of the picture, David Miller performed the following treatment on this painting, completed by April 15, 1988: The surface was cleaned with cotton swabs slightly dampened with a 5% Vulpex (Conservation Material) detergent solution in deionized water. Rinsing was accomplished with saliva followed by clear deionized water. Moisture was kept to a bare minimum to prevent problems with the paper-based support. The surface varnish was dried and polished with cotton balls. A 5% solution of Laropal K-80 (Ketone Resin N; Conservation material) resin in Stoddard Solvent was lightly brushed on to improve the saturation and contract of the old varnish. The old varnish was not removed lest all the delicate glazes be disturbed. The minor scratches and abrasions were inpainted with leFranc and Bourgeois Couleurs pour la Restauration (methacrylates) with Laropal K-80 resin added as needed to match original gloss. No further coats were added. The rabbet of the frame was fitted with a bevel cut oval rag board mat to cushion the painting and isolate it from contact with the acidic wood. Brass mending plates were used to secure the picture in the frame.
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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