THE METHODS AND MATERIALS OF MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE
ELIZABETH LETO FULTON
6 PRELIMINARY DRAWING
Since drawing would have been a fundamental part of the training for any formally educated painter, many theories pertaining to methods of sketching and drawing were available to painters of mid-19th-century America. Instruction manuals such as J. G. Chapman's American Drawing Book (1847) and John Ruskin's Elements of Drawing (1857), along with published material on the theory and practice of painting, were widely distributed and may have been studied by Heade. However, with no documentation or records of his owning particular manuals, it is difficult to ascertain whether he actually pursued published instruction on the subject.
Relative to the number of extant paintings, few sketchbooks and drawings by Heade exist. One journal Heade kept during a six-month stay in Brazil from September 1863 until the following spring is housed at the MFA, Boston (Brazil-London Journal 1863, S623). Interspersed sporadically in the text (in which he recounts his day-to-day experiences in Brazil) are delicate pencil drawings of hummingbirds, or portions thereof, and renderings of some in great detail. Other sketchbooks reveal small glimpses of mountains and other motifs that eventually made their way into his paintings.
Heade generally began his compositions with a schematic preliminary drawing on the ground layer. Often he simply suggested the horizon or a topographical profile of the backdrop scene. In many instances he drew motifs within the pictorial scene using varying degrees of detail. Trailing Arbutus (1860, S322), Roses and Heliotrope in a Vase on a Marble Table-top, and Shore Scene: Point Judith (1863, S119) (fig. 7) are relatively rare examples in which Heade used extensive detailed drawing throughout the composition.
Although Heade used a variety of media for his preliminary drawings, throughout his career he seems to have preferred dry materials (i.e., pencil, charcoal, chalk, and crayon). When the paintings are examined under the microscope (fig. 8) or with infrared reflectography, these media are occasionally seen near contours or through paint glazes. Where a dry under-drawing medium has been found, it has been difficult to analyze chemically. Occasionally loose, unbound black particles were seen between the ground and paint layers in some of the paint cross sections of the orchids when viewed through the microscope.
In the landscapes and seascapes, when a dry medium was used, it is most commonly found in the horizon line and in outlines for hill and mountain silhouettes. In these paintings, with very limited underdrawing, there is an increased number of pentimenti, especially in the upper paint layers of the contours of the various compositional elements. The pentimenti range from very subtle changes in the trees, haystacks, orchids, or heads of the humming-birds to actual displacement of the various motifs.
Although the dry underdrawing is more common, Heade sometimes used a wet medium. He would complete underdrawings of specific motifs such as birds or foliage using either a carbon-based ink (fig. 9) or thin, raw umber-colored paint. Observed using infrared reflectography or a binocular microscope, these areas could be characterized as having a dilute “wash” consistency, i.e., thin, smooth, and very sketchy, with a wider line than the dry type of underdrawing previously mentioned.
Martin Johnson Heade, Shore Scene: Point Judith, 1863, oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 60 1/4 in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Mary Harris Clark, 1991.967; b, infrared reflectogram of detail left in center showing extensive underdrawing
Martin Johnson Heade, “Heliodore's Woodstar” and a Pink Orchid, ca. 1875–90, oil on canvas, 15 x 20 1/16 in., private collection, Boston; b, photomacrograph of throat of orchid showing dry underdrawing medium
Martin Johnson Heade, Snowcap, ca. 1864–65, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 in., Manoogian Collection, detail upper left; b, photomacrograph of wet underdrawing medium
Martin Johnson Heade, Two Magnolias and a Bud on Teal Velvet, ca. 1885–95, oil on canvas 15 1/4 x 24 1/4 in., private collection; b, photomacrograph showing red crayon-like underdrawing medium at the edge of the magnolia petal.
In addition to, or sometimes in combination with, the black underdrawing materials, a red crayon-like material was found below the paint layers in compositions containing apple blossoms, orchids (“Heliodore's Woodstar” and a Pink Orchard), Cherokee roses (Branches of Cherokee Roses, ca. 1883–88, S551), and magnolias (Two Magnolias and a Bud on Teal Velvet, ca. 1885–95, S593). The red material, seen with the naked eye or through the microscope at the edges of the flowers (fig. 10), may be indicative of replication and transfer of the outlines of blossoms from one composition to the next. The red occurs as a line at the edges of flowers that are almost identical in size and shape to the flowers in other compositions. One possible copy method available to Heade was advertised in the popular art journal Crayon as “Magic Impression Paper for … Copying Leaves, Plants, Flowers … will also mark linen. … Each package contains four different colors: Black, Blue, Green and Red, with full printed instructions, for all to use, and will last sufficiently long to obtain five hundred distinct impressions” (Durand 1855, 94).
Another possibility is that, as Ruskin suggested in The Elements of Drawing, Heade could have drawn the lines with red crayon material and then modified the drawing to his satisfaction with a more permanent medium, such as graphite. But the possibility remains that Heade could have simply executed the drawings freehand in the red crayon material. Because non-carbon-based drawing between paint layers is very difficult to detect, conclusions remain elusive and hypothetical.
Later in his career it seems that Heade used the red drawing as a design element. In certain areas in the composition, he allowed the red outline to remain exposed, incorporating it into the design of the magnolia flower petals.
Like many Victorian artists who kept a collection of props from which to draw or paint, Heade owned skins of hummingbirds. Judging from the infrared reflectograms of the hummingbirds, one could hypothesize that, rather than drawing them completely, Heade was comfortable using cursory underdrawings of the birds, fully defining them in paint. As with the orchids, magnolias, and apple blossoms, the size and shape of the various species are repeated in many paintings. The question still remains whether Heade used a mechanical means of transferring the motifs, traced the motifs, or drew them free-hand with or without the aid of an optical device.