Martin Johnson Heade

Red rose in a standing vase

Oil on board: 16(h) x 8(w) in /

40.6(h) x 20.3(w) cm

Signed and dated lower left: M J Heade 1883

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BT 125



Lumberville, Pennsylvania 1819 – 1904 St Augustine, Florida


Red rose in a standing vase


Signed and dated lower left: M J Heade 1883

Oil on board: 16 x 8 in / 40.6 x 20.3 cm

Frame size: 27 ¾ x 19 ¾ in / 70.5 x 50.2 cm



Berry-Hill Galleries Inc., New York;

from whom acquired by Jay P Altmayer (1916-1999), Palmetto Hall, Alabama, in 1977



Theodore E Stebbins Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven 1975, p.258, no.234, illus.

Theodore E Stebbins Jr., The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: a Critical Analysis and a Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, pp.155, 327, no.511, illus.



Martin Johnson Heade is one of the most haunting, idiosyncratic American painters of the second half of the nineteenth century, a period when the Union was tested in the crucible of the Civil War and started to become the economic and political powerhouse that it was to be in the following century. Heade captures American landscape and light with a realism that borders on the hyper-real. He records with a kind of awed innocence North and South American flora and fauna, particularly hummingbirds and orchids, in their natural habitat. From the late 1850s to the end of his career Heade also painted highly original flower still lifes.


Red rose in a standing vase was made in 1883, the year that the very peripatetic artist moved from New York to St Augustine, Florida, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Heade had been painting roses from at least 1862, particularly favouring the cherry-red ‘Général Jacqueminot’, which is depicted here. From the mid-1870s Heade adopted simpler floral compositions, in this case choosing a single rose stem in a slender Japanese Meiji period copper vase, which is decorated with a delicate bamboo motif in silver. The Japanese craftsman’s ability to distil the essence of a plant is echoed in Heade’s mesmerising concentration on the uniqueness of this rose, the particular vortex of its petals, the way its leaves twist in the light. As Theodore Stebbins comments: ‘he described each blossom and object with extraordinary fidelity. One of the reasons the blossoms and vases seem so powerful….is that they appear to be individually, almost personally, considered’[1].


Heade made oil sketches for the motifs in his flower still lifes, to which he referred over many years, refining his compositions like a writer editing a poem. The Meiji vase appears at the same angle in an oil sketch of c.1865-75 (private collection, USA)[2], a period in which Heade also made a number of oil studies of roses[3]. He made other rose still lifes circa 1883, such as Rose in a vase (private collection) which replaces the sprig of camomile in the present painting with lily-of-the-valley[4]. The association of red roses with love and passion is especially appropriate for 1883, the year in which Heade, aged sixty-four, married for the first time. The union with Miss Elizabeth Smith seems to have been happy and contented, set against the prosperity as an artist which Heade at last achieved and his delight in the lush Florida landscape. The St Augustine Tatler noted approvingly in January 1893: ‘Then such roses! great beautiful jacqueminots; with petals so delicately shaded….handled as only Heade can paint them’[5].



Note on the provenance


This painting comes from the collection of the landowner, developer and philanthropist Jay P Altmayer (1916-1999) and his wife Nan (1922-2016). Mr Altmayer made the first donation of land to establish Mobile College, now the University of Alabama, and served on the White House Fine Arts Committee during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. The Altmayers decorated their fine Antebellum mansion, Palmetto Hall in Mobile, Alabama, with eighteenth and nineteenth century English furniture and British and American paintings.  





Palmetto Hall, Mobile, Alabama.







Lumberville, Pennsylvania 1819 – 1904 St Augustine, Florida



Martin Johnson Heade (who changed the spelling of his name from Heed) was born in Lumberville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania on 11th August 1819. He received his earliest artistic training from the folk painter Edward Hicks (1780-1849) and perhaps had additional instruction from Hicks’s younger cousin Thomas, a portrait painter. The influence of these two artists is evident in Heade’s earliest works, which were most often portraits painted in a rather stiff and unsophisticated manner. Heade travelled abroad around 1838 and settled in Rome for two years. He made his professional debut in 1841 when his Portrait of a little girl (location unknown) was accepted for exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1843 his Portrait of a young lady (location unknown) was shown at New York’s National Academy of Design.


Heade made a second trip to Europe in 1848 and his portraits gained much greater sophistication. He moved around the USA in the late 1840s and early 1850s, living in Providence, RI from 1856-58, where he gained substantial patrons. In 1858 he settled in New York, where he met Frederic Edwin Church, who became one of his few close friends in the American art world. He began to produce landscapes of extraordinary originality, such as Approaching thunder storm, 1859 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which some scholars have seen as an allegory of the political situation which led to the Civil War (1861-65). Heade was drawn to coastal areas and began to specialize in seascapes and views of salt marshes, which he painted with an astonishing subtlety and intensity in his treatment of light.


In the late 1850s and early 1860s Heade began to experiment with still-life painting, an interest he would maintain for the rest of his career. He continued to travel in the eastern United States and in 1863 made the first of three trips to South America. Frederic Church had already been to the tropics twice, and his large-scale paintings of dramatic South American scenes had won him widespread fame and critical approval. Although Church encouraged his friend to seek out equally spectacular scenery, Heade was interested in more intimate views. Sunset: a scene in Brazil, c.1864-65 (private collection), has something of the spirit of Frans Post (1612-1680), the Dutch artist who travelled in Brazil.


Heade had been fascinated by hummingbirds since childhood; while in Brazil he undertook a series of small pictures called The Gems of Brazil (c.1863-64; Manoogian Collection), depicting these brightly coloured birds life-size in landscape settings. They were destined as illustrations for a book that he planned to write, but the project was never realised. In the 1870s Heade began to paint pictures combining hummingbirds with orchids and other exotic flowers in mistily atmospheric tropical landscapes. During these years he continued to paint marsh scenes, seascapes and still lifes.


In later life Heade travelled to British Columbia and California, among other places. Never fully accepted by the New York art establishment – he was denied membership of the Century Association and was never elected an associate of the National Academy of Design – Heade settled in St Augustine, Florida, in 1883. That year he married Elizabeth Smith. Apart from the balmy climate, Heade was attracted by the excellent shooting, fishing and birdlife; Florida was also beginning to develop and boom from tourism.


Heade found a patron in the wealthy oil and railroad magnate and hotel owner Henry Morrison Flagler, who commissioned and purchased several dozen pictures over the next decade. Heade discovered new subjects in the glimmering Florida rivers and swamps, in works such as The great Florida marsh, 1886 (Kenan Family Collection). He continued to paint floral still lifes, revelling in the waxy, almost decadent perfection of magnolias set against a background of red plush, in paintings like The magnolia blossom, 1888 (Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, CA). Martin Johnson Heade died in St Augustine on 4th September 1904.


The work of Martin Johnson Heade is represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego; the St Augustine Historical Society; the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.



[1] Stebbins 2000, op. cit., p.137.

[2] Stebbins 2000, p.296, no.382.

[3] Ibid., pp.296-8, no.383-389.

[4] Ibid., p.328, no.512.

[5] Quoted in ibid., p.155.

EuropeanMartin Johnson Heade