Martin Johnson Heade ( 1819 - 1904)
Oil on canvas
Early American Art Gallery
Description of The Gems of Brazil
NARRATOR: The display you are in front of is a grouping of 16 small, ornately framed oil paintings from Martin Johnson Heade's series The Gems of Brazil. Each framed painting is 18.5 inches by 16.5 inches and depicts an outdoor jungle scene, all containing a pair of hummingbirds, except for one, which contains a single large blue butterfly. The gold, cove frames are roughly six inches thick with vines and leaves detailing their corners and edges. The grouping begins about two and a half feet from the floor and towers about four feet above the tops of our heads. Its total width is slightly wider than the span of our outstretched arms.
The painting we will focus on is in the bottom left corner of the grouping. The blue sky in the background of the painting covers roughly two thirds of the canvas. In the bottom third, hazy gray and white clouds touch the tops of mountains covered with lush green vegetation in the distance. In the foreground, tree branches and vines covered in moss and leaves curve across the top and center of the canvas, giving us the impression we are viewing the scene from a high altitude.
In the center of the foreground, one small hummingbird with outstretched wings perches on a branch. Its body is mostly shades of brown save for the white ring at the base of its exposed throat and the brilliant patch of iridescent pinkish-purple feathers that extends up the underside of its neck to its beak. Its head is looking up and to the right, its characteristically long beak almost touching the beak of the second hummingbird in this scene.
The second hummingbird is perched on a portion of the same branch that is slightly above and to the right of the first bird. Its head and beak are pointed down toward the other bird. This bird's feathers are also shades of brown, but the feathers on its neck are solid white, causing it to fade into the surrounding scenery. A nest hangs from a branch in the bottom left corner of the canvas. In the nest, two baby hummingbirds, their backs turned to us, raise their beaks up into the air.
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