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Martin Johnson Heade : “Sunlight and Shadow – Newbury Marshes” (c. 1871 / 1875)

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Though Martin Johnson Heade shared studio space and was acquainted with members of the Hudson River School, he remained peripheral to the movement, his subjects a significant departure from those of his peers. New England coastal salt marshes were his primary interest in landscape. These wetland scenes, numbering over one hundred in total, are characterized by their subdued scenery and emphasis on light and atmosphere.

“Over the course of this series,” observes the National Gallery in Washington, “Heade captured the essential character of the wetlands environment. He depicted the tides, meteorological phenomena, and other natural forces that shaped the appearance of the swamp and showed how the land was used for hunting, fishing, and the harvesting of naturally occurring salt hay. No other artist of the era explored and analyzed the unique qualities of the marshes in such a sustained and detailed way.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art notes his subjective approach to landscape, reflecting that “His minutely scaled renderings of nature’s climatic cycles may be understood as imitations of his own mood.”

Heade was not famous during his lifetime and was nearly forgotten until his work underwent a period of rediscovery during the mid-20th century. Now considered a major American artist, his original works continue to surface in attics and rummage sales, only to fetch six-figure sums at auction.

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