Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904)

Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c. 1871

Oil on canvas, 15 1/4 x 30 1/8 in. (38.7 x 76.5 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.68

Throughout his career Martin Johnson Heade created about 120 paintings of coastal marshlands in the eastern United States. Flat and fetid, marshlands defied the conventions of Hudson River school painting, but by the mid-1860s, Heade was among the many landscape artists who favored such atmospheric settings where land, water, and sky meet. In this painting a serpentine stream slices through a marsh animated with a fisherman and several farmers; the presence of haystacks suggests the bounty of agrarian life. Storm clouds cast the foreground in ominous shadow. The painting represents a fragile balance between man and nature, as saltmarsh haying was an urgent task performed at the mercy of the volatile weather and changing tides. In Heade’s time, saltmarsh farming represented a vanishing way of life, since the young farmers were abandoning such traditional work to settle the American West. This work is a meditation on the fleeting beauty of nature and the value of rural labor.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.