American School Late 19th Century
- American School
- Twilight on Newbury Marsh
- black and white chalk on paper
Mr. and Mrs. William Graf, Newbury, Massachusetts
Davis and Long Company, New York
Acquired by the present owners from the above, 1980
Earl A. Butler, "An American perspective: nineteenth-century art from the collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr.," The Magazine Antiques, January 1982, p. 260, illustrated fig. 2 (as attributed to Martin Johnson Heade)
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, pp. 167-170
For over twenty-five years, Twilight on Newbury Marsh was attributed to Martin Johnson Heade. Though no documentary evidence could conclusively connect Heade to this drawing and several similar works, some strong stylistic similarities to the artist's paintings of Newburyport marsh helped sustain these attributions. In the late 1970s, a group of scholars, including Dr. Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Curator of American Art at the Fogg Art Museum who has authored several books on the artist including two Catalogue Raisonnés, investigated questions about the attribution of these works. The following is an excerpt reprinted from Dr. Stebbins' most recent catalogue on the artist in which he discusses these issues:
"...In October 1982 John Wilmerding, then curator of American Art and senior curator at the National Gallery of Art, Marjorie B. Cohn, head of the center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, and I convened a symposium on these drawings. Before the meeting, Leslie Wykoff Hill and her colleagues at the Fogg conducted a careful technical analysis of fifteen of the black-chalk drawings ... and the six related watercolors, and they prepared a written report summarizing their findings. Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr. kindly provided funding for some of the costs associated with the project. About thirty scholars, dealers, and collectors gathered to hear more about the Fogg's technical analysis and to examine the drawings.
"With one exception, all the drawings examined (including the best-known examples) were found to have been executed not with charcoal, as had been previously thought, but with black chalk; about half have touches of white chalk, and three make use of red chalk. Almost all are on light off-white paper with a greenish-gray tone. All the materials are consistent with a date in the last third of the nineteenth century. We had been hoping to find inscriptions, signatures, or other evidence which would confirm Heade as the creator of at least some of the works—or point away from him—but nothing of this kind was discovered on the front or the back of any of the works. We had also planned, if possible, to divide the drawings into groups that were demonstrably by two or more different hands, but again this proved impossible. It was generally agreed that more than one artist could have made the drawings. The seminar concluded that there is no evidence intrinsic to the materials of the drawings that point either to Heade or away from him.
"So if the drawings are to be attributed to Heade, it must be on purely stylistic grounds. We know that Heade was painting the Newburyport marsh by 1859 and that he frequently painted the haystacks at twilight. The particular scene depicted in the drawings was not one that Heade ever painted however. Moreover, in Heade's complex marsh scenes the eye meanders or zigzags slowly into the distance, following the winding river, the asymmetrically located haystacks, areas of light and shade in the foreground and middle ground, and other elements. These drawings, on the other hand, have a generally symmetrical composition whose major elements are the darkened sail of the sloop and two dozen or more haystacks—a greater number by far than Heade would normally paint. They make use of a one-point system of perspective, in which the haystacks and the banks of the river recede to a single vanishing point on the horizon. In the drawings the eye moves directly back into the distance, whereas in Heade's paintings the eye explores the picture.
"There are other factors which cast doubt on the earlier attribution to Heade. Most important, he was never a gifted draftsman, so far as we know, nor is he known to have experimented with black chalk or charcoal as a medium. All of his dozens of known drawings are of small to medium-sized sketchbook studies in graphite; in the sketchbooks there is no rendering of the scene on Parker River, nor is there any indication that Heade was ever likely to become an excellent draftsman. Moreover, all of the chalk drawings appear to have been executed between 1886 and around 1891 ... other drawings I have examined have had Newburyport papers dating from 1890 and 1891 as backing. The original frames for these drawings all come from the same period, the mid-eighties to the late nineties. Moreover, all the drawings were found in Newburyport, where Heade's paintings rarely turn up.... The drawings can thus be dated with relative certainty to the years 1886-91. If Heade executed them, he did so either in Florida or on a trip North, and there is no evidence in his letters or elsewhere for such a project. Such drawings also go unmentioned in critical reviews, the exhibition records, or any other documents relating to his work, nor is there any indication that these drawings were considered to be Heade's work before 1950. None of them has had a provenance leading back to the Heade family.... In conclusion, the authorship of these drawings remains a mystery. Perhaps further evidence will come to light that will allow us to identify the artist or artists" (The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, p. 167-170).