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Marshfield Meadows

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Marshfield Meadows

circa 1878
oil on canvas
17 3/4 in. x 44 in. (45.09 cm x 111.76 cm)
Currier Funds, 1962.13

Martin Johnson Heade

(For biographical information on Martin Johnson Heade, see entry under Heade, Singing Beach, Manchester, Massachusetts 2002.20.38 )

Although today Martin Johnson Heade is considered one of the most important of the Hudson River school painters, in his own lifetime he enjoyed only moderate success. He had rooms in the Tenth Street Studio Building, where Albert Bierstadt (q.v.), Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910), and others painted; he traveled to South America with Frederic Church (q.v.), perhaps the most highly regarded painter of the group; and in the 1860s, along with such artists as John F. Kensett (1816-1872) and Sanford Gifford (q.v.), he introduced a style of quiet, atmospheric, light-filled landscape painting now known as luminism. For more than twenty years, beginning in the mid-1860s and continuing until 1883 when he moved to Saint Augustine, Florida, Heade painted the salt marshes of the Northeast, from Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Hoboken, New Jersey. He persisted with this subject despite the fact that these views of the marshes, carved up by tidal streams and dotted with haystacks, never quite captured the public's imagination, and he rarely commanded more than five hundred dollars for a canvas. Marshfield Meadows seems to have been highly regarded by the artist, for he submitted it to the 1878 exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association in Boston. The painting disappeared from view until the early 1960s, however, when it was acquired by the Currier. Since then, this gentle view of the Cut River (or one of its many tributaries) twisting through the flat marshland just south of Plymouth, Massachusetts, has been recognized as one of Heade's most beautiful luminist pictures.

The salt marshes are a seemingly unglamorous subject for landscape painting. Flat, monotonous, and familiar, they could not compete with the grandiose effects of the Adirondacks in autumn, or the snowcapped Rockies, or the tropical spectacles of South America-subjects preferred by Heade's contemporaries. Yet the very emptiness of the marshes made them seem vast and uncompromised. While they were nearby, they were by no means controllable: the salt marshes were constantly affected by the weather and by the action of the tides; and the marsh hay, so essential to New England's agrarian economy, could only be harvested-it could not be cultivated. Heade painted these bogs with a romantic's reverence for the infinite power of nature. In his small canvases, the sense of panoramic expanse is immense, and the figures, who load the hay onto wagons, or fish, or sweep up loose hay, are dwarfed by the infinitely receding space. At the same time, Heade's sensitivity to the smallest atmospheric changes, and the magical light filtering over the terrain, anticipated that of the impressionists, although his technique remained wedded to the Hudson River school tradition of tiny brushstrokes, local color, and concern for detail.

In the 1870s, Heade's style loosened somewhat: he preferred gentler, damper atmospheric effects and broader brushwork. A Marshfield image painted several years earlier (Marshfield Meadows, Massachusetts, ca. 1865-75, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX) shows the high drama of a passing thunderstorm and the resulting contrasts of bright sun and deep shadow. Here, effects are more subtle: Heade shows a changeable cloudy sky, and his palette is delicately grayed, punctuated only by bits of red in the laborers' shirts.



Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. Martin Johnson Heade. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1975. No.200.

John Wilmerding. American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875. Ex. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1980. Pp. 46-47, 116.

1978 Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, NY, "American Luminism." Oct. 25 - Nov. 25.

1979 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, "Small Gallery on a Large Scale." June 16 - July 29.

1980 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, "American Light: The Luminist Movement." Feb. 10 - June 15.

1981 "Martin Johnson Heade." Organized by the Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville, FL. Traveled to: Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, FL, Feb. 7 - 28; Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville, FL, March 12 - May 2.

1982 Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery, Keene State College, Keene, NH, "New England Seafaring." Feb. 19 - March 28.

1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.

1993 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Celebrate America! Three Centuries of American Art from the Currier." June 19 - Aug. 29.

1995-1997 "American Art from the Currier Gallery of Art." Organized by the Currier Gallery of Art and the American Federation of Arts. Traveled to: Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL, Dec. 3, 1995 - Jan. 28, 1996; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL, Mar. 15 - Apr. 7, 1996; Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA, Aug. 10 - Oct. 13, 1996; The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, Feb. 2 - Mar. 30, 1997; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Apr. 25 - June 22, 1997; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, July 18 - Sept. 8, 1997, cat. no. 18.

1999-2000 "Martin Johnson Heade." Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Traveled to: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, MA, Sept. 29, 1999 - Jan. 17, 2000; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Feb. 13 - May 7, 2000; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, May 28 - Aug. 13, 2000.

2002 "American Sublime." Organized by Tate Britain. Traveled to: Tate Britain, London, England, Feb. 20 - May 19; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA, June 17 - Aug. 25; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, Sept. 22 - Nov. 17.

2006-2007 Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Extended Loan of European and American Paintings. Aug. 2006 - Nov. 2007.

Roy Leon
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1962

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