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Great Floridians 2000

Martin Johnson Heade

(1819 - 1904)

Martin Johnson Heade was born in Buck County, Pennsylvania. His father, a prosperous farmer, encouraged him to paint, even sending him to Italy to study. By the time he was 22 years old, he had won professional recognition. He traveled extensively and as one of his contemporaries noted, “few of our artists have roved more about the world.” For the first forty years of his life, he rarely stayed in one place more than a few years.

Heade had the longest career of any American artist in the 19th century and one of the most varied. He worked in his early life as a portrait and genre painter, later turned to painting landscapes, especially the salt marshes. Then in the 1860’s after traveling through Central and South America, the hummingbird and orchid became major subjects in his work for the rest of his life.

In 1883 Heade, at the age of 64 got married, bought a house in St. Augustine and settled down. The tropics appealed to him, and for the first time he had a wealthy patron. Henry Flagler, the developer of Florida’s East Coast, had built a great luxury hotel in St. Augustine, the Ponce de Leon, which opened in 1888. He furnished Heade with a studio at the hotel and filled the hotel with guests who could easily afford to purchase paintings. However, the last ten years of Heade’s life showed a decline in his popularity and income as Flagler extended the railroad further south from St. Augustine and hotel patrons continued on south with it.

Heade was an unsuccessful land speculator before and during his tenure in St. Augustine. Just as age contributed to the decline in his ability to paint, his lack of business acumen thwarted his efforts at financial stability. His work was overlooked for half a century, until 1945 when a Museum of Modern Art exhibition included one of his paintings. Several St. Augustine organizations possess these now valuable works.

Marker location
Ponce de Leon Studios, Valencia Street on the campus of Flagler College

Web site for Flagler College

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