Sun Gems – circa 1863/64
Oil on canvas
Faintly inscribed on tacking edge
12 inches x 10 inches
Private Midwest Collection. Lot is accompanied by a letter from noted Heade expert, Theodore E. Stebbins dated August 2, 2018 authenticating the painting based on his in hands inspection.
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, no. 340, page 286, illustrated.
Likely the Academy of Fine Arts, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 1864, according to Stebbins.
Read Full Conservation Report:
Martin Johnson Heade Conservation Report - Lot 27
Read Authentication Letter:
Heade Authentication Letter - Lot 27
For a similar, but slightly smaller work depicting the same species and painted at the same time see Sotheby's, New York, sale of May 25, 1988, lot 67.
The offered painting depicts a lush tropical forest setting with exotic plants and trees covered in colorful moss with the sun breaking through the clouds. At center are male and female Horned Sungem hummingbirds (Heliactin cornuta) native to central Brazil, and rendered with the male leaning forward to his mate.
The male (top) has spectacular crown tufts showing red, blue and gold, on either side of its iridescent dark blue crown. The upperparts are bronzy-green, the throat and upper breast are black while the belly and sides of the neck are white. The tail is long and pointed and shows a dark V. The female is similar but without the spectacular crown pattern or the black throat.
In an 1892 interview, the artist Martin Johnson Heade confessed, "From early boyhood I have been almost monomaniac on hummingbirds" (Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 1975, p. 129). This obsession with hummingbirds would stay with Heade throughout his life.
In September 1863, Heade boarded the steamer Golden City in New York, bound for Brazil, informing the public that he intended "to paint those winged jewels, the hummingbirds, in all their variety of life as found beneath the tropics" (The Boston Transcript, 12 August 1863).
It is likely that Heade's trip to Brazil was made possible by his friend, the Reverend James Cooley Fletcher (1823-1901). Fletcher was not only a fellow naturalist, like Heade, but also a diplomat who had served as acting Secretary to the U. S. Legation at Rio de Janeiro in 1852-1853. Fletcher had befriended the emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II (1825-1891), who cultivated friendships with the diverse international community. Thus Heade probably traveled to Brazil well-prepared with introductions and with a clear purpose in mind. He remained in Brazil from September 1863 to April of 1864, the period in which the offered lot was executed. In March of 1864, Emperor Dom Pedro awarded him the Brazilian Order of the Rose. When Heade departed Brazil, he had studied the country's hummingbirds both in their native habitat and on the dissecting table. He left the tropics for London with paintings, as well as specimens of birds to use in his studio, including some which were native to other regions of South America. While Heade continued to paint hummingbirds in his studio set against background landscapes, he also made two more trips to South and Central America (1866 and 1870) increasing his artistic vocabulary with observation and sketches of birds, flowers and the surrounding landscape.
In May of 1864 Heade arrived in London by steamer from Brazil. "Gems of Brazil" was the title given to twelve pictures first exhibited by Heade in Rio de Janeiro in 1864, and representing part of the twenty paintings intended to be chromolithographed and published in London, under the same title and dedicated to Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil. Unfortunately, Heade was unable to secure the support required to fund the publication and much as he would try, the project never came to fruition. Nevertheless, in the process of working on the project, some of his hummingbird paintings were indeed produced in chromolithograph with known examples exhibiting oil enhancement by Heade's own hand. According to Stebbins, only four different chromolithograph images were ever printed, including one of the offered lot.
The condition of the painting is excellent. In July of this year the painting was thoroughly assessed for preservation by the noted Chicago, Illinois based conservation laboratory of Parma Conservation. The work was undertaken by their Director and Chief Conservator, Elizabeth Kendall.
The painting was examined using microscopy, natural light photographic imaging, micro-photography, near infrared imaging and x-radiography. After solubility tests for cleaning were completed, it was determined that the painting was likely in its original untouched state with an unaltered stable paint layer and original varnish. Subsequently, minimal conservation efforts were required and included cleaning, a lining of the tacking edge, minimal re-touching to address minor abrasions from rabbet, and the installation of an archival stretcher. A copy of the full conservation report is available on line or by request, and lot is accompanied by the original stretcher.
Jackson's International is grateful to Heade specialist and author, Theodore E. Stebbins Jr., Curator of American Art, Emeritus Harvard Art Museum, who examined the painting in hand and confirmed its authenticity. A copy of his letter dated August 2, 2018 discussing the painting and his confirmation accompanies the lot and is also available online or by request.
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