Martin Johnson Heade (American, 1819–1904), Magnolia Grandiflora, about 1885–95. Oil on canvas, 38.42 x 61.28 cm (15 1/8 x 24 1/8 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815–1865, 47.1169. Photograph © 2015 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is presenting Nature and Opulence: The Art of Martin Johnson Heade, on view from Nov. 18 through Feb. 26 in the Museum’s Bradley Family Gallery. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this is the first major exhibition on the artist in nearly 20 years. Largely forgotten by scholars and collectors after his death, Heade was one of the most varied and inventive painters of the 19th century and is now recognized as one of the most important American artists of his generation.
Heade was the only major American painter of the time to devote equal attention to landscape, marine and still life subjects. He created evocative marsh scenes, powerful canvases of thunderstorms at sea, Victorian flower still lifes and small studies of South American hummingbirds accompanied by tropical orchids.
“We are honored to host these paintings by one of the 19th century’s most important American artists from the MFA Boston,” said Brandon Ruud, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Abert Family Curator of American Art. “The warmth and sheer beauty of Heade’s lush landscapes and opulent still lifes make this exhibition one everyone can enjoy this holiday season.”
Nature and Opulence includes approximately 50 works and is arranged in the galleries thematically: Portraiture and Early Landscapes, Seascapes, Painting Light, Transition with Drawings, Orchids and Hummingbirds, and Interior Still Lifes.
The exhibition offers visitors the unique opportunity to view the full range of Heade’s career and his development as an artist, from early portraits and marine subjects to his mature Luminist landscapes and late magnolia still lifes.
Heade made multiple trips to the tropics in search of good subject material, including Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Panama, and created paintings that are a unique combination of jewel-like birds and lush orchids—what he called his “Gems.”
These paintings, along with Heade’s later floral still lifes, in which magnolia blossoms lie on dark velvet or are arranged in ornate vases, scandalized Victorian audiences because of their obvious sexual undertones. Such shocking subjects eventually led to a decline in the artist’s reputation; collectors and curators revived his status as one of the 19th century’s greatest American painters after his death.
In addition to exploring the extraordinary breadth of Heade’s output, the exhibition includes paintings by his contemporaries, including rare masterpieces by Washington Allston, Albert Bierstadt and Fitz Henry Lane.
An audio guide is available featuring Brandon Ruud and Heade author and expert Karen Quinn, senior historian and curator of art and culture at the New York State Museum.
This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.