THE METHODS AND MATERIALS OF MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE
ELIZABETH LETO FULTON
This article presents the results of the first broad study on the materials and methods of oil paintings by Martin Johnson Heade. Heade is unique in that his career began before the industrial and commercial revolution had a major impact on artist's methods. His career evolved through the late 19th to the beginning of the 20th century, painting in all genres: still lifes, portraits, landscapes, marines, and a few history and genre scenes. Heade was mainstream, prolific, and well traveled. Observations made from examining the paintings contribute not only to the understanding of Heade's techniques and materials, bearing some new insight into the questions revolving around authenticity and dating, but also to the understanding of the working methods of 19th-century American artists in general.
As with any project, the most wonderful discoveries are new and better-formed questions. It is our hope that further studies will provide deeper understanding in the following areas of research: media analysis, original varnishes, reasons for ground staining and drying problems in the paint, underdrawing methods, and, specifically, Heade's possible use of mechanical means of transferring motifs from painting to painting, his relationship to photography, the influence of artists such as Thomas and Edward Hicks, Frederic E. Church, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Heade's use of artist's manuals.
This research project coincided with the completion of Theodore E. Stebbins Jr.'s grand opus The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade (2000) and the exhibition Martin Johnson Heade, which was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opened in September 1999 at the MFA, traveled to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2000, and closed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in August 2000. In preparation for these projects, we were able to augment and confirm our findings by studying many other paintings by Heade (some newly identified) not in the MFA's extensive collection, including some of his most important and beautiful works.