Amon Carter print details

Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Object Details

  • Date


  • Object Type


  • Medium

    Oil on canvas

  • Dimensions

    32 1/8 x 54 3/4 in.

  • Inscriptions


    signed and dated l.l.: M J Heade \ 1868.

  • Credit Line

    Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

  • Accession Number


  • Copyright

    Public domain

Object Description

Nature has called an end to a day at sea. Storm clouds churn in a darkening sky, a lightning bolt strikes in the far distance, and sheets of rain chase sailboats back to shore. Yet despite the unsettled weather, the sailors remain calm. One furls the sails of his boat while his two companions walk unhurriedly up the beach, perhaps confident in the assurance that comes with a safe arrival on stable ground.

Between 1859 and 1868, Heade, a largely self-taught painter, completed at least eight canvases depicting storms. He frequently portrayed changing weather conditions in his art, and his storm scenes may have carried metaphorical significance. During the Civil War and in the early years of Reconstruction, thunderstorms, lightning bolts, and returning ships were used to symbolize the passage of the United States through an era of profound social turmoil.

—Text taken from the Carter Handbook (2023).

Additional details

Location: On view
See more by Martin Johnson Heade


  • This dark seascape painted by Martin Johnson Heade in 1868 lives in an ornately carved, gold frame and is roughly 32 inches tall by 54 inches wide.

    The artist places the viewer on a Rhode Island shoreline, looking at an extremely calm bay filled with several sailboats and land on the other side of the water. Dark, cloudy, ominous skies fill the top half of the canvas. A thin white, zigzagged lightning bolt cuts through the middle of the sky in the middle of the canvas, adding drama to the scene.

    In the bottom foreground, there is a yellow sandy beach that has a cluster of beach grass on the left, wood pieces from a shipwreck in the middle of the beach, and lots of smaller rocks scattered across the entire beach. In the bottom center, three people appear. A shadowy figure messes with the sails of the boat behind the hull. A man on the left walks toward the right side of the painting down a sandbar away from a docked sailboat; he wears a hat, a red shirt, and light-colored pants. He rests an oar over one shoulder and holds a bucket by his side in his other hand. Ahead of him, farther right on the canvas, walks another man wearing a hat, a light-colored shirt, and red pants. He holds an oar in one hand down by his waist.

    The beach extends into dark, very still water. Two boats with white sails float on the left, while the right side of the canvas has six boats with white sails, some closer to the viewer than others, and they face different directions. Above the water and land is the sky. The sky takes up about two thirds of the canvas. The boats on the left are under a gray, cloudy sky, while the boats on the right are caught in the middle of a downpour, indicated by the darker clouds over them, and vertical brush strokes imply rain. A lightning bolt separates the lighter sky on the left from the darker, stormy skies on the right. Four white birds and two black birds fly over the boats.

    On the other side of the bay is a strip of land that is more visible on the left and starts to fade in the darkness of the storm as it reaches to the right side of the painting. The land is heavily wooded with broader strips of muted colors that represent buildings or houses. Above the land the sky fills up the rest of the canvas.

    When this artist exhibited this painting, audiences did not know what to make of it because this stormy seascape was an uncommon theme for the artist and for landscapes and seascapes at the time.

Educator Resources
  • How do colors found in nature influence an artist’s work?

    How might artists portray mood or emotion in their work?

    How might artists use weather/climate to convey a mood/feeling/emotion?

    How are moods/emotions symbolic of an artist’s work?

    How do current events influence subject matter in art?

  • Grades 3–5

    Imagine yourself in one of the faraway boats. List some verbs that tell about the things you are doing (rowing, bailing, watching, paddling, hoping, worrying, yelling). List some adjectives that describe the sky and the water (dark, still, glassy, black, cloudy, scary, threatening, ominous).

    Describe in complete sentences your experience in the boat. Be sure to include your five senses.

    Imagine that you are one of the characters in this painting. Describe this experience from your point of view. Be sure to use your five senses.

    Grades 5–8

    Just as Heade used symbols to represent American identity during his lifetime, we are going to create symbols to represent the American identity during your lifetime. Choose one of Heade’s symbols from our discussion that you feel reflects American identity today. You may use it exactly like Heade or make changes. For example: If you choose clouds, what type of clouds will you represent? Why will you represent them in that way? If you choose a boat, is it broken or sailing freely?

    Draw your chosen symbol on your paper. Now, create two of your own symbols. Next to your symbols, explain what each one represents.


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