Martin Johnson Heade (August 11, 1819-September 4, 1904) was a prolific American painter known for his salt marsh landscapes, seascapes, portraits of tropical birds, and still lifes. His painting style and subject matter, while derived from the romanticism of the time, is regarded by art historians as a significant departure from that of his peers.
Art historians have come to disagree with the common view that Heade is a Hudson River School painter, a view given wide currency by Heade's inclusion in a landmark exhibition of Hudson River School landscapes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1987.
The leading Heade scholar and author of Heade's catalogue raisonné, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., wrote some years after the 1987 exhibition, "Other scholars—myself included—have increasingly come to doubt that Heade is most usefully seen as standing within that school."
According to the Heade catalogue raisonné, only around 40 percent of his paintings were landscapes. The remaining majority were still lifes, paintings of birds, and portraits, subjects unrelated to the Hudson River School. Of Heade's landscapes, perhaps only 25 percent treated traditional Hudson River School subject matter.
Heade had less interest in topographically accurate views than the Hudson River painters, and instead focused on mood and the effects of light. Stebbins wrote, "If the paintings of the shore as well as the more conventional compositions...might lead one to think of Heade as a Hudson River School painter, the [marsh scenes] make it clear that he was not."
Heade was born in 1819 in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, a small hamlet along the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and spent his childhood there. Until the mid 1850s, his family ran what is now called the Lumberville Store and Post Office, the village's sole general store. The family spelling of the name was Heed.
Historians believe Heade received his first art training from the folk artist Edward Hicks, who lived in the area. By 1839 Heade had painted his first portraits and, after traveling abroad and living in Rome for two years, in 1841 he exhibited his first work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philaldephia. Heade began exhibiting regularly in 1848, after another trip to Europe, and became an itinerant artist until he settled in New York in 1859