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    Description

    MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE (American 1819 - 1904)
    Forest Study, Brazil, circa 1864
    Oil on paper board mounted on canvas
    11-2/5 x 20-1/2in.

    PROVENANCE:
    Joseph Bradley Heed (half brother of the artist), Lumberville, PA;
    His son, Charles Rittenhouse Heed, Gulph Mills, PA;
    His daughter, Mrs. Renee Heed Grant, Gulph Mills, PA;
    Estate of Mrs. Renee Heed Grant, 1972;
    William Postar, Boston;
    Sale Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, April 17, 1975, lot 24;
    Private Collection

    LITERATURE:
    Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade. New Haven and London, 1975, cat. 88, ill.;
    Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade<. A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2000, cat. 129, ill. p. 233.


    This meticulously observed tangle of tropical trees, blooming underbrush and vines is an oil sketch Martin Johnson Heade painted from life during a trip to Brazil in 1864. It was something the artist refused to part with, even when he ran severely short of money in England the year immediately following his eight-month Brazilian sojourn of September 29, 1863 to April 8, 1864. Heade kept the picture in his possession throughout his life, and following his death it was passed down in his family for over 100 years. Its evident importance to the painter certainly stems from the fact that Heade made it in the field, when he was directly in front of his subject matter. As a transcription of the forest as he carefully observed it, this small painting subsequently served as a valuable visual reference manual for the more ambitious paintings of the tropics he produced afterwards in England and upon his return to his New York and his grand Tenth Street studio. These paintings include the works of the 1870s for which the artist became most celebrated-his magical scenes of hummingbirds sipping from magnificent orchids in lush tropical gardens.

    This intimate landscape has all the hallmarks of a life study. First, it is on paper board, a support that Heade and many other Hudson River School landscape painters used for their on-site work since it was lightweight and portable. Heade began making this type of oil sketch more frequently at the encouragement of the great scenic painter, Frederic Edwin Church, who became one of the quirky and querulous Heade's few art world friends as well as his artistic idol. Shortly after moving to New York City in 1858, a relocation that coincided with his decision to redefine himself as a landscape painter rather than a portraitist, Heade met Church who also lived and worked in the Tenth Street Studio Building. Church advocated the practice of making paint studies in the field in addition to careful records in graphite. Although Heade was a little slow in taking this advice, he eventually did, and produced oil studies in Brazil both of the landscape and of the hummingbirds he went there specifically to study. Because he was in an unfamiliar and exotic location, which had also been a costly trip to make in the first place, he doubtless sought to make the most of his time there and to capture as many of its particulars as accurately and convincingly as possible. (Heade had painted feverishly for the eight months prior to his September 2, 1863 departure for Brazil so that he would have enough money for the trip.)

    Apart from the type of support, Forest Study, Brazil has other qualities that underscore its having been done en plein air. Foremost among them is its lack of a staged or concocted composition. One could even argue that the painting actually contains no composition in the truest sense of the term, and for this reason offers a fascinating glimpse of Heade's working process. To appreciate this painting's freshness, one need only compare it with Heade's two harbor views of Rio (See Stebbins, 2000, plates 59 and 60, cats. 124 and 25), both of 1864, which use more mannered devices such as foreground repoussoir screens to frame the view. Likewise, it differs compositionally from Heade's finished work with a similar title-his upright view, Brazilian Forest, also of 1864-which is composed in the manner of a stage set in much the same way that Asher B. Durand designed his familiar Hudson River School image, Kindred Spirits of 1849 (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.); the vegetation is parted at left and right to form a central trough into which the main characters, in this case a waterfall and two tree ferns, are inserted. Brazilian Forest, now in the collection of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, can be considered the "end result" of this type of oil sketch, i.e. everything has been moved around to conform to a readable spatial organization. By contrast, in this sketch, the forest and all its components appear as a frieze of dense vegetation, from top to bottom and right to left, just as it looked to Heade as he sat there on a portable stool recording it. Only a glimpse of pinkish sky at upper right affords a little breathing room.

    The present work is a beautiful match to the way Mark Twain, a contemporary of Heade's as well as a personal acquaintance and collector of his paintings, described the combination of sensual allure and disorienting humid confusion he observed in the tropical climate. As Heade authority Theodore Stebbins has noted, "Twain wrote of the 'enchanting confusion' of vines and foliage" but also paid keen attention to the underbelly of the allure which was epidemic cholera, yellow fever, and death. Heade, like Twain, noticed the coupling of the beautiful with the deadly in a paradise like Rio de Janeiro, unlike Frederic Church, who focused exclusively on the overarching grandeur and harmony of nature in paintings such as his magnificent Heart of the Andes of 1859-a picture Heade had certainly seen in New York. Stebbins and other writers point out that the contrasting attitudes toward nature held by Church and Heade can be discerned in their work. Even though Heade was the elder of the two painters, he seemed to have internalized the newer, darker ideas of natural selection advanced by Darwin in his On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection published in 1859. Church, on the other hand, was a devout man whose idea of nature as something perennially benign was closer to those of Humboldt, who had also traveled extensively in South America. In this small painting by Heade, the sense of either hunting or being hunted is palpable beneath the fronds of vegetation.

    Heade's trip to Brazil was the first of his three visits to South America, a painter's mecca during the years leading up to, during, and following the American Civil War. (Following the trip to Brazil in 1863-64, 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, complete with tropical forests that derive from firsthand studies such as this one.

    Note to the reader: Heade changed his surname from Heed back to the original English spelling (Heade) during the 1840s, after learning from his grandfather that the family had Americanized it. He was the only member of his family to make this spelling change. This is why the members of his family listed in the provenance spell their name differently.



    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *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. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. 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.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2006
    9th-10th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,619

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