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Lot 72
Martin Johnson Heade
Apple Blossoms in a Nautilus Shell Vase 21 x 17 in. (53.3 x 43.2 cm.)
25 May 2023, 14:00 EDT
New York

Sold for US$140,200 inc. premium

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Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Apple Blossoms in a Nautilus Shell Vase
signed 'M. J. Heade' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 x 17 in. (53.3 x 43.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1870-75.


Robert Brovaco Gallery, Montclair, New Jersey, by 1969.
Private collection, Florida.
Sale, Sotheby's, New York, November 30, 2005, lot 155.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

(probably) Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, June 7, 1882-March 28, 1883.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Martin Johnson Heade, July 9-August 24, 1969, n.p., no. 22, illustrated, and elsewhere.

T.E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade, New Haven, Connecticut, 1975, pp. 241, 295, no. 144, illustrated.
B.T. Allen, B.W. Folsom, ed., "Martin Johnson Heade," A Private View: American Paintings from the Manoogian Collection, New Haven, Connecticut, 1993, p. 84.
T.E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, pp. 132, 300, 384, no. 398, illustrated.

Apple Blossoms in a Nautilus Shell Vase is an exceptionally sophisticated example within Martin Johnson Heade's oeuvre that beautifully demonstrates his mastery of flower painting. Heade began painting floral still lifes shortly after his move to his Tenth Street Studio in New York in 1858 and started painting roses in the early 1860s. He later began painting his infamous apple blossoms around 1865, first identified in several works of this period depicting the ruby throated hummingbird. Throughout the course of his career, Heade focused on several different types of flowers, often creating a floral prototype that he recorded in an oil sketch before exploring its pictorial possibilities in a series that he would stretch out for a number of years. Early on in his exploration of floral subjects, Heade received high praise from critics, one of whom wrote in the Crayon in 1860, "Mr. Heade ... gives us occasional glimpses of flowers and trailing vines—such exquisite groups—that we are almost tempted to wish that he were less successful as a landscapist" ("Sketchings: Domestic Art Gossip," Crayon, September 1860, p. 264)

Painted circa 1870-1875, Apple Blossoms in a Nautilus Shell Vase is rich in detail and painted with an austere handling that beautifully demonstrates Heade's delicate and observant approach to his mid-career florals that became more luxurious over time. In the present work, Heade paints an arrangement of apple blossoms, another variation on his study of the flower, in an elegant Nautilus Shell vase with a fancy gilt stand that appears to mimic the appearance of a fish with its tail fins raised. Heade surrounds the subject with the ornate trappings of wealth and luxury that would have appealed to his upwardly mobile middle-class clients. With extraordinary skill, Heade masterfully captures the intricate detail and texture of the dark wood paneling, the lush woven materials that drape the scene, as well as the two porcelain and gilt vessels to the right of the apple blossoms. Theodore Stebbins, Jr. notes that Heade, "described each blossom and object with extraordinary fidelity. One of the reasons the blossoms and vases seem so powerful at times is that they appear to be individually, almost personally, considered" (T.E. Stebbins, Jr., The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, 2000, p. 137).

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