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Property from the May Family Collection

Jersey Meadows at Sunset

Jersey Meadows at Sunset
signed 'MJ Heade' (lower right)
oil on canvas
14 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. (36.2 x 76.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1866-76.
T.A. Wilmurt, New York.
O.P. Pillsbury and Verta Pillsbury, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1882.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Morris, Los Angeles, California, by 1974.
Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Krueger, Chicago, Illinois.
Patricia Madelyn Dey-Smith, Washington, D.C.
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1981.
T.E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 1975, p. 260, no. 245, illustrated.
M. Hutson, "Nineteenth Century American Art Collections in Los Angeles," American Art Review, vol. II, no. 5, September-October 1975, p. 70, illustrated.
T.E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, p. 242, no. 162, illustrated.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Industrial Exposition, 1882, no. 105.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Industrial Exposition, 1886, no. 104.
Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, American Paintings from Los Angeles Collections, May 7-June 30, 1974, p. 8.
Washington, D.C., The White House, July-October 1980.
College Station, Texas, Texas A&M University, The American Vision: Paintings from the C. Thomas May, Jr. Family Collection, August 23-September 19, 1982, pp. 18-19, illustrated.
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas Collects American Paintings: Colonial to Early Modern, September 16-November 14, 1982, no. 16, illustrated.
Huntsville, Alabama, Huntsville Museum of Art; New York, The Lotos Club, The May Family Collection of American Paintings, February 7-May 1, 1988, pp. 30-31, no. 10, illustrated.
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Art, July-September 2006, on loan.
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Art, June 1-September 1, 2015, on loan.

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Lot Essay

While many of his contemporaries sought subject matter in the dramatic mountain vistas and seaside cliffs of the American landscape, Martin Johnson Heade instead explored the presence of the sublime to be found in the pristine, open expanses of nature’s marshlands. A luminist view of this favored subject, Jersey Meadows at Sunset stunningly captures the majesty that Heade uniquely recognized within the undisturbed wetlands along the nation’s coastlines.

The marshes of Newbury and Newburyport, Massachusetts first captured Heade’s attention around 1860. He then went on to depict the subject at a range of locales including Florida, New England, and as seen in the present work, New Jersey. Depicting them at different times of day and under different atmospheric conditions and seasons, Heade’s marshes reflect a popular theme of the passage of time. As John Howat writes, “While artists such as Cole and Cropsey were attracted to monumental subjects such as Niagara Falls or more ruggedly inspired locales such as the Catskills, Heade was enamored with the quiet, contemplative quality of marshlands found along the eastern seaboard…One reason may be that the Adirondack and White Mountains, Lake George, and the Newport beaches were becoming increasingly popular as tourist attractions, but marshes like Newburyport’s still had much of the quality of wilderness that first attracted Hudson River School painters. Marshes are beyond human control: the grass grows without cultivation and largely unnoticed; even when harvesting is in progress the marshland changes little. Because the grass is high and because no roads lead through the boggy soil, few workers and hardly any onlookers venture there. As in the scenes of the tropics he was then producing, Heade becomes the viewer’s ambassador to a part of the world that few have ever observed.” (American Paradise, New York, 1987, p. 178)

Painted circa 1866-76, Jersey Meadows at Sunset invites the viewer to explore this largely untouched landscape. A rickety bridge anchors the foreground against a brilliant vermillion sunset, while a sole figure in the distance establishes the expansive vista. A quintessential luminist composition, the dramatic, awesome sky fills two-thirds of the canvas, even as the strong horizontal format and hazy atmospheric perspective create an effect of absolute calm and serenity.

Reflecting on the marsh paintings, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. writes that Heade “found a scene that was to enchant him for the rest of his life: a beautiful, changing marsh cut by winding rivers, in some seasons covered with huge haystacks which receded into the distance as far as the eye could see. To the painter the sight must have seemed to be the ultimate drama, a perfect juxtaposition of the pictorial and the moral." (The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 1975, p. 47) With its combination of picturesque composition and ethereal light, Jersey Meadows at Sunset beautifully illustrates these qualities of the American marshlands which so captivated Heade throughout his career.

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