Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Who Will Paint Florida?
As I've been preparing for this show I've been rereading a couple of books I have on Martin Johnson Heade. Heade was one of those very underrated 19th century American artists who had always been loosely associated with the Hudson River School. New scholarship in the last 40 years has rescued him from obscurity, and placed him within the Luminist school. Today his star is rising. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he wasn't particularly famous during his lifetime, so discoveries of Heade's in thrift shops and attics has been a common and profitable occurrence over the last few years.
A number of well known 19th century artists visited and painted Florida -Inness, Homer and Sargent to name a few. But, Heade was the only one who made a permanent home there. He lived in St. Augustine for the last two decades of his life and painted exquisite marsh scenes as well as still lifes of tropical plants and birds, particularly hummingbirds. Its important to remember that when Heade came to Florida in the 1880's it was the last frontier left in the east. The extension of the railroad into Florida facilitated its growth and the presence of patrons interested in collecting landscapes depicting its tropical beauty.
When Heade came to Florida it was not only a tropical frontier but virgin territory artistically as well. There were no artistic traditions or schools upon which to draw. Heade's voluminous output during these two decades was not only unique but the first aesthetic exploration of Florida motifs, from landscape to flora and fauna. Although there are many who paint Florida today, Heade was the first to answer the call.