Two Hummingbirds Above a White Orchid
Oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 10 1/8 in.
signed l.r.: M. J. Heade
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Between 1863 and 1870, Heade made three trips to South America and the Caribbean to paint hummingbirds. He hunted for the elusive birds in thick jungles, examined specimen collections, and consulted scientific texts by well-known naturalists. He then translated his accumulated knowledge into small oil paintings and made plans to produce a lavish illustrated volume called “The Gems of Brazil,” which he never completed.
In this painting, Heade renders the Amethyst Woodstar hummingbird and the Cattleya purpurata orchid at lifescale and up close to the picture plane, following the prevailing conventions of natural history illustration. But unlike most ornithological images of his era, which typically pictured specimens against a blank backdrop, Heade positions his birds in a tropical landscape. The dense, visually impenetrable undergrowth hints at the challenges facing those who hoped to encounter these elusive birds in the wild.
—Text taken from the Carter Handbook (2023)
The Perilous Texas Adventures of Mark DionFebruary 8–July 5, 2020
Part explorer, part historian, and part naturalist, artist Mark Dion retraces the footsteps of several 19th-century Texas explorers, collecting materials to form an exhibition that enhances our understanding of the past and brings it to life in the present day.
Because of his fascination with nature, artist Martin Johnson Heade studied and painted hummingbirds and orchids throughout his entire career. This vertically oriented painting is an exceptional example of his interest with the subject.
Heade painted a lush tropical landscape that focuses on two key components: two Woodstar Hummingbirds and a blossoming orchid, or Lealia pupurata. On the upper right side of the painting, a thin branch reaches down toward the middle of the canvas. Sitting on the branch are two emerald-green hummingbirds painted to scale. The bird on the lower-left side faces the right of the painting with its wings and tail spread open and pointed up, creating a "v" or checkmark shape. It has bright magenta feathers displayed under its beak and down to its chest, which then fade into a small white patch of feathers. The second hummingbird is perched higher on the branch with its body in profile to the viewer, as it looks down toward the other bird.
Directly beneath the open-winged bird is a five-petal white orchid also painted to scale. Each petal is uniquely shaped. Some petals are thinner than others, but all have ruffled edges. In the center of the flower is a white pistil; the stalky female reproductive piece that sticks out with a swollen base; it has a dark pink opening with yellow in the middle that disappears down the inside of the pistil. The flower is attached to a lime green stem with two other buds on it to the right of the white flower. The top bud is completely closed and only partially shown. The lower bud is starting to open with stripes of white popping in between the outer green casing. Below the central orchid, additional green and brown long, narrow buds appear but have not yet started to bloom.
The bottom half of the background is filled with dark-and-light green foliage, creating a tropical vista that appears very dense and lush. The top half shows hazy, brown mountains in the distance and a very cloudy white and blue sky, almost like a storm is rolling in. A single, green palm tree on the left side cuts into the blue sky.