Historical Markers
Martin Johnson Heade Historical Marker
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Martin Johnson Heade

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
32, Lumberville in front of Lumberville General store

Dedication Date:
September 14, 2000

Behind the Marker

A creative and unique oil on canvas with the boat dotted river as the focal point, a city and mountains in the background, and a desk and pencil in the foreground
Sunset Harbor at Rio, by Martin Johnson Heade, 1864.
Perhaps no painter in history was as restless as Martin Johnson Heade. Born to a farm family named "Heed" that also owned a lumber mill, he studied painting as a youth with markerEdward Hicks and possibly Thomas Hicks, who lived in Bucks County near the Heed homestead in Lumberville. Around 1840, he went to England and then Rome. Returning to the United States, he lived in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Chicago, Trenton, Providence, Boston, New Jersey, California, and British Columbia before marrying at the age of sixty-four and settling in St. Augustine, Florida. In addition to Europe, he traveled to South America three times. He was also an insatiable hunter and wrote numerous articles for Field and Stream magazine about his trips to the west.
Lichen covers dead branches; moss drips from trees; and, a blue-gray mist veils the distant jungle. An opulent pink orchid with light-green stems and pods dominates the left foreground. To the right, perched near a nest on a branch, are a Sappho Comet, green with a yellow throat and brilliant red tail feathers, and two green-and-pink Brazilian Amethysts.
Cattleya Orchard and Three Brazilian Hummingbirds, by Martin Johnson Heade,...

Heade had numerous shows during his lifetime - including the National Academy of Design in New York, the markerPennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boston Athenaeum, and the Royal Academy in London. But he never achieved the renown of his friend Frederic Edwin Church, whose grandiose landscapes, like those of many Hudson River School Artists like George Inness and Pennsylvania artists like George Hetzel presented nature as cosmic, yet coherent, reflecting the glory of God. In the close to 620 paintings that survive, Heade stressed a world where nature was dangerous, challenging, complex and fragmented rather than coherent.

In his paintings, small human figures seem threatened by the natural world, rather than standing awestruck at its magnificence or functioning harmoniously within it as in most mid-nineteenth century works that celebrated America's seemingly inexhaustible natural heritage. Heade's landscapes are of the "Luminous" school, in which painters emphasized subtle changes in light and shade rather than vast panoramas.

Heade reveled in the luxuriant world that could be found on a small scale. He loved to paint birds – especially hummingbirds, which he adored – flowers, and still lifes, which dominated his work
A colorful red sky sunset settles around the hay bales and cattle in the field. Patches of marshy water dot the landscape and birds appear to be feeding on the life that these patches provide.
Sunset, by Martin Heade.
from the 1880s onwards. Many of these miniatures practically explode with bright colors and sensuality; they almost seem to be the real object. Some critics have found in Heade's paintings a critique of nineteenth-century Americans" confident belief in their own destiny, but the mediocre poems and magazine articles he published offer no evidence one way or the other.

In old age, Heade was befriended by Henry Morrison Flagler, a Rockefeller partner in Standard Oil and one of the developers of St. Augustine, Florida, as a winter resort for wealthy northeasterners. Flagler bought many of his late works, enabling him to live comfortably into old age. Heade's paintings were neglected until the 1940s, at which time renewed interest in American art has led to several exhibitions and catalogues.
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