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Capturing The Light

The Vero Beach Museum of Art features the extraordinary paintings of Martin Johnson Heade and his contemporaries.

Martin Johnson Heade, “Orchids and Hummingbirds,” about 1875-83, 
oil on canvas

Martin Johnson Heade, “Orchids and Hummingbirds,” about 1875-83, oil on canvas

The work of one of the 19th century’s most versatile painters, Martin Johnson Heade, will be featured at the Vero Beach Museum of Art beginning February 6. With paintings on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the exhibition is unique in that it will include the paintings of a number of Heade’s predecessors and contemporaries in order to put his work into historical context. 

While museums have organized shows spanning Heade’s lifetime or focusing on a particular aspect of his career, this exhibition offers comparisons with other 19th century masters – many of whom specialized in the same genre – and has never before been mounted. The show, “Nature Illuminated: Landscapes and Still Lifes by Heade and his Contemporaries,” will highlight Heade’s originality and artistic breadth.

This amazing American artist, born in 1819 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was never fully appreciated until the 1960s when Theodore Stebbins, former curator of American Painting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, provided the scholarship that established Heade’s importance and reputation. “Heade was never part of the artistic establishment of his day,” Vero Beach Museum of Art Curator Jay Williams says. “He was never elected to the American Academy of Design and his work was ignored for more than 50 years after his death.”