Jungle Orchids and Hummingbirds
Oil on canvas
From early boyhood, I have been almost a monomaniac on hummingbirds. –Martin Johnson Heade
Charles Darwin’s landmark book On the Origin of Species inspired painters to look anew at nature as dynamic and evolving. In 1863 Martin Johnson Heade, an aspiring naturalist, made the first of three trips to Brazil to paint the brilliantly colored hummingbird, creating at least forty-five canvases, including Two Hummingbirds with Their Young (2011.127.1), which documents a shimmering family of Sappho Comet hummingbirds. Although Heade’s plan to publish an illustrated book on the birds was never realized, the artist’s fascination continued unabated. Beginning about 1871 and continuing for over thirty years, he painted a series of pictures that combined hummingbirds with living orchids, such as this one. Drawing on his own earlier experience as a sometime-ornithologist, and using living orchids for the first time as a painter’s subject, Heade created a unique American genre.