Sunset on Long Beach
Artist Martin Johnson Heade, American, 1819–1904 American
25.72 x 55.88 cm (10 1/8 x 22 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Dr. Lawrence H. and Roberta Cohn Gallery (Gallery 235)
In an oeuvre of 650 known oils, Heade painted more than 150 salt-marsh landscapes. No two are identical. The earliest feature the area near Newburyport, Massachusetts, located north of Boston; further south and closer to the city, he worked in Lynn and Marshfield, as well as along the Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey shores. Heade continued to paint marsh subjects after he moved to Florida in 1883. His last two dated works are a northern and a southern marsh executed the year of his death, 1904 (locationsof both unknown). It can be difficult to determine the exact location of his landscapes, since Heade was less interested in the specificity of topography than in capturing the effects of changing light and weather. Sunset on Long Beach belongs to a group of marshes Heade executed between the mid-1860s and mid-1870s, a prolific period of work that resulted in some of his classic wetland scenes, including Salt Marshes, Newburyport, Massachusettslink. This sunset is dated to around 1867 because of its similarity to another composition, Ipswich Marshes (New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut), that Heade signed and dated that year.
Sunset on Long Beach came into the MFA’s collection with this title. It may be a view across the wetlands of southern Long Island, New York, toward the Atlantic Ocean (which is visible at the left dotted with sailboats) near the present city of Long Beach. In this scene, the landscape is bathed in the glowing pinks of the setting sun. Heade achieved this luminosity by carefully building up his colors with delicate, thin glazes (pigments diluted with oil). These are especially evident in the cigar-shaped clouds and the sun itself, where pink and lavender tones are applied over a thicker white. Heade’s individual brushstrokes are imperceptible in the faint clouds visible in the background over the horizon—a masterful suggestion of atmosphere. In the foreground, he tinged the grasses with flecks of orange and pink, contrasting them with the lush greens. He used long strokes of green and orange, partially blended together, to create the recession of the marsh into the distance. Small haystacks, unlike the larger specimens Heade featured in other compositions link, help to emphasize the vast expanse of the landscape. Fair-weather cumulus lenticularis clouds reinforce the horizontal nature of this painting, and Heade further emphasized the breadth of the marsh by the shape of the canvas he selected—it is more than twice as wide as it is high. A masterpiece of the subtle effects of light and color, this is one of Heade’s most serene and evocative works.
Karen E. Quinn