Sunset Harbor at Rio
Martin Johnson Heade
In 1863, Heade, who was born in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, set off for Brazil on the recommendation of his fellow artist Frederic Edwin Church, a trip which also allowed him to pursue his interests in ornithology and botany. Accompanying the naturalist Reverend J. C. Fletcher, Heade hoped to provide illustrations for Fletcher's study of South American hummingbirds, but this project was never published. Regardless, in Rio de Janeiro he exhibited a group of bird paintings, botanical studies, and landscapes, and was honored with the Order of the Rose by Emperor Don Pedro II.
In this painting, Heade, who studied with Edward Hicks, demonstrates a masterful use of light and composition, as our eye is led by the reflection of sunlight on the water to the city of Rio. The activity of the harbor is set against an exotic landscape filled with an array of flora. Heade is most commonly associated with Luminism, an art historical term coined in 1954 by John I. H. Bauer to signify a diverse range of American landscape painters who followed the Transcendentalist thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson. While there is no evidence to suggest that Heade read Emerson, his work does fit into a larger cultural context that viewed South America as both a new Eden and an area to be exploited for natural resources.