Florida Museum of Natural History

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

The diversity of paintings and persistent literary voice of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) present challenges. Viewers of Heade's paintings perceived his attention to nature without a clue about his commitments to wildlife policies. Readers of op-ed articles signed by "Didymus," Heade's pen name, learned of his concerns with game management, but remained unaware of his long and distinguished artistic career. Works by evolutionist, Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) provide links.

Key words: Heade, Darwin, hummingbirds, selection, neotropical

Historical Background

Throughout the middle decades of the nineteenth century, naturalists and landscape artists were traveling companions in regions of North and South America, for real estate ventures and railroad and boundary surveys depended upon their observational skills.1 Besides Martin Johnson Heade, a number of artists explored American frontiers--John F. Kensett, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Worthington Whittredge, Albert Bierstadt, William Bradford, and Thomas Moran.2 After wealthy museum donors joined the efforts of the federal government, organization of large-scale geographical projects brought them together with tycoons, sportsmen, traders, hunters, clergymen, scouts, politicians, and cartographers. Regardless of Charles Darwin's iconoclastic ideas about the origin of species, the advancement of natural history required augmentation of collections.3

Not surprisingly, some of the same urban nature buffs who enjoyed shooting animals from railroad cars and steamboats also supported the fine arts. In New York City, John Russell Bartlett's book establishment, Bartlett and Welford, catered to these combined tastes and, by the 1840s, prompted the curiosity of John Lloyd Stephens in Maya culture. Bartlett, having participated in the Mexican Boundary Survey in 1850, also patronized Martin Johnson Heade, Johnson to his friends, and continued to correspond on his behalf into the 1860s.4

As investors in England and the United States realized the potential for Central American commerce, Panama was one of four sites under consideration for an inter-oceanic canal. Stephens and a small group of partners, hopeful for the selection of the Chagres River, built the Panama Railroad to provide inland access. Adventuresome artists, enjoying railway access, produced visual images for a curious and ambivalent public. Heade visited two of the proposed sites for the inter-oceanic canal in Panama and Nicaragua and made other trips farther south in the Neotropics. His friend, Frederic Edwin Church, with whom Heade shared a New York City studio, also traveled to Amazonia, and his authoritative views, huge awesome oil paintings brimming with life, dazzled gallery goers and inspired other artists.5

Biographical Background

Born in Lumberville, near Doylestown, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Heade demonstrated interest in painting by 1837, and his father, a successful farmer, sent him abroad to study art.6 The young man returned from England with multiple ambitions and, in 1846, changed the spelling of his last name from Heed to Heade. This youthful affectation, perhaps inconsistent with his mature vocations, was not Heade's only name change, however. From 1880 until his death, Heade sent letters to the hunting magazine Forest and Stream (now Field and Stream), published under the nom de plume "Didymus."7 [Fig. 1] Other than remarks made by his literary persona Didymus, a Latin name derived from a Greek word for double, many of Heade's pursuits, including land speculation and art instruction, remain poorly documented. Besides travels to the Neotropics, he took part in railroad surveys in places as distant and different as Wisconsin, Jamaica, and Florida.8

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1. William Goetzman, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and Scientist in the Winning of the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971) gave important place also to artists. Many exhibitions followed, one of the best, The Artist as Explorer: Luminist Visions of Nineteenth Century America, October 3-November 15, 1986, Adams Davidson Galleries, Washington, D.C.

2. See Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969), pp. 80-109.

3. Charlotte M. Porter, "The Natural History Museum," pp. 15-18, in Michael Steven Shapiro, ed., with Louis Ward Kemp, The Museum: A Reference Guide (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990).

4. Katharine Emma Manthorne, Tropical Renaissance: North American Artists Exploring Latin America, 1839-1879 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), pp. 125-126. Stevens (1805-1852) described his famous explorations of Maya ruins in 1841 and 1843.

5. For more on Church (1826-1900) in South America, see Manthorne (1989), pp. 55-56.

6. Theodore E. Stebbins, Martin Johnson Heade (College Park: University of Maryland, 1969), enlarged as The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), is the definitive biography. See also Robert George McIntyre, Martin Johnson Heade, 1819-1904 (New York Pantheon Press, 1948) and Robert W. Schlageter, Martin Johnson Heade (Jacksonville: Cummer Gallery of Art, 1992), pp. 36-45.

7. Stebbens (1975), pp. 202-204, lists articles by Didymus at the Archives for American Art, New York, NY. Page Edwards, Executive Director, St. Augustine Historical Society, provided photocopies cited also by Charlotte M. Porter, "Martin Johnson Heade, An Early Voice for Florida Conservation," Proceedings of the 90th Annual Meeting of the Florida Historical Society (May 1992): pp. 182-194.

8. Didymus, "In Old-Time Wisconsin," Forest and Stream, 23 September 1898, p. 185, and "On the Chagres River," Forest and Stream, 23 September 1899, p. 244. See also Manthorne (1989), p. 59.

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