Martin Johnson Heade 1819-1904
- Martin Johnson Heade
- Victorian Vase with Flowers of Devotion
- signed M.J. Heade, l.r.
- oil on canvas
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1981
Acquired by the present owners from the above, 1981
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, no. 422, illustrated pp. 133, 306
Martin Johnson Heade began painting floral still lifes not long after he moved to New York City in 1858. Though he was new to the genre, his florals received high praise from critics, including one from New York's Crayon who wrote in 1860: "Mr. Heade ... gives us occasional glimpses of flowers and trailing vines—such exquisite groups—that we are almost tempted to wish that he were less successful as a landscapist" ("Sketchings: Domestic Art Gossip," September 1860, p. 264). One of Heade's earliest florals, Still Life with Wine Glass, painted in 1860 (Private Collection) depicts a bouquet of flowers, with roses and heliotrope, arranged in a fragile trumpet shaped wine glass. The delicacy of Heade's later florals, which became more luxurious over time, is prefigured in this early example. Heade's focus shifted to several different types of flowers over the course of his life. He initially began painting roses in the early 1860's, and apple blossoms by 1865. In 1870 the artist began to depict the exotic orchids he observed on his trips to Central and South America. During the last two decades of his life, he painted sumptuous images of magnolia blossoms and Cherokee roses while in St. Augustine, Florida.
Heade painted his flowers with the same intensity of observation that he applied to the exotic hummingbirds and jungles of Brazil. Theodore Stebbins, Jr. notes that Heade "described each blossom and object with extraordinary fidelity. One of the reasons the blossoms and vases seem so powerful at times is that they appear to be individually, almost personally, considered" (The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, 2000, p. 137). In Victorian Vase with Flowers of Devotion, an unseen light source emanating from the left side of the canvas illuminates the pink roses, allowing Heade to depict and the viewer to see the velvety texture and fine modulations between light and shadow of each petal. The Victorian vase, violet heliotrope, lilies of the valley, and trailing vine receive the same attention to detail, but the viewer's eye lingers on the roses as the main focal point. Heade removes the flowers from their natural environment, and in the decorative 17th century Dutch still life tradition, juxtaposes them with the trappings of wealth and luxury that would have appealed to his upwardly mobile middle-class clients.
Though Heade rarely used the same vase more than once or twice in his still lifes, he included various versions of the one that appears in Victorian Vase with Flowers of Devotion nearly a dozen times, suggesting that it was one of the artist's and his patrons' favorite subjects. Stebbins points out that "Heade's choice of vases in the floral still lifes ... offer(s) insights into both the painter and his audience." He writes that after Heade returned from London in the mid-1860s, "he turned to a wide variety of vases and earthenware. Such vases, along with various other bric-à-brac, were manufactured in great quantity for the increasingly wealthy middle classes in both England and the United States.... Innumerable metalware objects were manufactured by such firms as Meriden Britannia, Reed and Barton, and Gorham, all of which issued ever larger illustrated catalogues in the 1870s and 1880s" (The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, 2000, p. 131-132).