THE METHODS AND MATERIALS OF MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE
ELIZABETH LETO FULTON
In the larger group of 50 paintings examined, eight had original, intact canvas supports, which had never been removed from their stretchers. No canvas stamps were visible. In some cases, in the four corners seen from the reverse, small “tabs” of preprimed canvas were folded over the stretchers and tacked onto the reverse (fig. 1). This method of stretching is not unique to Heade's work. Similar tabs have also been found on canvases of many late-19th-and early-20th-century Boston-based painters, such as Dennis Miller Bunker (1861–1890).
Martin Johnson Heade, Woodland Sketch, 1863, oil on canvas, 15 x 12 in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bequest of Maxim Karolik, 64.434. Note the folded “tabs” on the reverse.
Most of the canvases examined during this study were the medium-weight, plain weave, linen-type canvases most commonly used by artists of the mid-to late 19th century. However, Heade occasionally used a double-threaded, rep weave canvas, as seen in Mary Rebecca Clark (1857, S43). He also used a rep weave canvas with single threads in one dimension and double threads in the other, as seen in The Stranded Boat (1863, S111) and Newburyport Marshes (ca. 1866–76, S142). Twill canvas was found in Rocks in New England (1855, S60) and Becalmed, Long Island Sound (1876, S248).
Heade preferred a 1:2 proportioned format—the horizontal panorama—for his landscapes and seascapes. The same format was also found in work by artists such as Francis A. Silva (1835–1886) and Alfred T. Bricher (1837–1908), but not as consistently as with Heade. The 1:2 format was also found in some of Heade's still lifes not only in the horizontal but also in the vertical orientation, as in Orchids and Spray Orchids with Hummingbirds (ca. 1875–90, S497).
The landscapes and seascapes examined were painted on canvas typically tacked to four-or five-member, keyable wooden stretchers. In addition to the canvases, a few paintings were painted on artist's board. Although none were included in the study, we have also seen several paintings on mahogany panel.