Plein air oil painting by Martin Johnson Heade
Martin Johnson Heade, “Approaching Thunder Storm,” 1859, oil on canvas, 28 x 44 in., Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1975

The following originally appeared in Plein Air Magazine (April/May 2018). Click here to download the full issue, or click here to subscribe to Plein Air today.

Although he kept a studio in the same building in New York City as several artists of the Hudson River School and became good friends with Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) — one of its most celebrated members — Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) operated on the fringes of the movement. His paintings exhibit the same influence of Romanticism, but while his building-mates turned to the wilds for inspiration for their majestic depictions of mountains, valleys, and waterfalls, Heade opted for decidedly more horizontal expanses of subdued scenery — primarily salt marshes and coastal settings, from Massachusetts to New Jersey.

Even when he painted storms, a favorite subject, he preferred the somber buildup to the main event. Here, rather than the tempest itself, it was its prelude — the blackening sky and eerily illuminated landscape — that inspired the artist to capture the scene he witnessed on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay in a sketch (as seen in Plein Air Magazine), which provided the basis for this painting.

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