Lot 17
  • 17

Martin Johnson Heade 1819 - 1904

900,000 - 1,200,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Martin Johnson Heade
  • White Orchid and Hummingbird
  • signed M.J. Heade (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 20 by 12 inches
  • (50.8 by 30.5 cm)
  • Painted circa 1875-90.


Private Collection, Kailua, Hawaii (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 3, 1987, lot 71, illustrated)
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Martin Johnson Heade, Boston, Massachusetts, 1999, p. 103 n. 15
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, London and New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, no. 506, p. 326, illustrated


This work is in excellent condition. The canvas is unlined. Under UV: there are a few scattered pindots of inpainting in the sky and some to address fine cracking in the lower register. There is inpainting along the extreme left edge and in the extreme upper right corner.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Martin Johnson Heade's life-long interest in the natural world, particularly tropical hummingbirds, prompted the artist to visit Brazil in September of 1863. As the artist confessed to his audience in an 1892 column, "From early boyhood I have been almost a monomaniac on hummingbirds" (Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 1975, p. 129). This preoccupation persisted through his formal studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as during his trips to Europe where he refined his artistic vocabulary.

While the belief in a fundamental connection between man and nature first manifested itself in the writings of naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin, their work inspired artists such as Frederic Church and Heade to visit and paint the exotic landscape of South America. After Heade arrived in Brazil, he penned his impressions in his journal: "There is probably no country where a person interested in ornithology, entomology, botany, mineralogy or beautiful scenery could find so much to keep him entertained" (Ibid., p. 71). Heade remained in Brazil until April 1864, thoroughly studying the country’s hummingbirds both in their natural environment and on the dissecting table. He left the tropics with specimens to be used in his studio, thereby allowing him to produce hummingbird paintings against background landscapes. Heade made two subsequent trips to South and Central America in 1866 and 1870, further developing his aesthetic with direct observation.

With an eye to the commercial success of John James Audubon's Birds of America, Heade intended to publish an album of chromolithographs based on his paintings, titled The Gems of Brazil. Though Heade was unable to secure the necessary 200 subscribers required to fund the publication, his paintings, which were to serve as templates for the project, achieved great commercial success. Exhibitions of the works in South America and London were so well-received, and the paintings so sought-after by collectors, that the artist would go on to produce approximately 55 canvases focusing on hummingbirds.

White Orchid and Hummingbird depicts a Calliphlox amethystina, or Amethyst Woodstar hummingbird, with a white orchid at the upper left and a small passionflower at the lower right. The bird and flowers, set amidst a tropical wilderness of foliage, distant mountains and imposing clouds, dominate the canvas. In Stebbins’ succinct summarization: “These works combine traditional features of both landscape and still life along with elements of ornithological and botanical illustration. One seeks in vain for direct precedents for these astonishing works within either American or European Art” (Martin Johnson Heade, Boston, Massachusetts, 1999, p. 8).

A letter from Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. dated October 31, 2013 will accompany this lot.