Published: March 2, 2004
Sixteen of the 20 paintings of hummingbirds that the American artist Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) intended as illustrations for a lavish book, The Gems of Brazil, are at the Yale University Art Gallery, on loan from the Manoogian Collection. Heade painted the tiny hummingbirds, frequently referred to as “gems” because of the intense iridescence of their feathers, in compositions that exquisitely combine elements of the Brazilian landscape with ornithological illustration.
“We are always delighted when private collectors allow us to show their treasures to a public audience,” said Helen A. Cooper, the Holcombe T. Green, Jr curator of American paintings and sculpture, “but we are particularly grateful to have these glowing canvases warm our New England winter with their tropical beauty. While fully appreciated in his time,” she continued, “Heade is today recognized for his originality and mastery of landscapes as different as the tropical forests in The Gems of Brazil and the Massachusetts coast in “Sudden Shower, Newbury Marshes,” which hangs nearby in our permanent collection.”
A self-described “monomaniac” on the subject of hummingbirds, raising and taming them for much of his life, Heade went to Brazil in 1863 determined to create a book rivaling John James Audubon’s Birds of America. He exhibited the paintings in Rio de Janeiro, where he was knighted by Emperor Dom Pedro II for his artistic achievement, then he took them to London to work on the chromolithographs and text. Alas, owing to lack of money and the artist’s dissatisfaction with the quality of the reproductions. The Gems of Brazil was never published. In 1865, Heade sold the paintings to an English railroad magnate and sometime before the Second World War they were purchased at a country auction in England by the art historian Lord Kenneth Clark. They remained in his family until 1981, when they entered the collection of Richard Manoogian, Yale class of 1960, who has generously loaned them to the Yale Art Gallery through the end of June 2004.
The Yale University Art Gallery is at Chapel and High Streets in New Haven. For information 203-432-0600 or www.yale.edu/artgallery.
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