Advanced Search
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Dwight Primiano.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Gems of Brazil

Artist: Martin Johnson Heade (1819 - 1904)
Date: ca. 1863-1864
12 1/4 x 10 in. (31.1 x 25.4 cm)
Framed: 18 1/4 x 16 x 3 5/8 in. (46.4 x 40.6 x 9.2 cm)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2006.91
Place Depicted:
On View
Accession Number: 2006.91
Provenance(probably) to Sir Morton Peto [1809-1889], London, England; (country auction, England, before 1939); purchased by Lord Kenneth Clark [1903-1983], England, before 1939; to James Clark [b. 1960] (his grandson), England; to (Alex Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London, England); to (Hirschl & Adler, New York, NY); to (Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, NY), by 1981; purchased by Alex and Marie Manoogian Foundation, Taylor, MI; purchased by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, 2006
Label TextBelieving that no artist had successfully captured the rich iridescence of hummingbird feathers or butterfly wings found in the tropics, Heade planned to create a series of images that would compete with scientific illustrations of exotic species by John James Audubon and others. He painted these sixteen works as part of a planned group of twenty "Gems of Brazil," so-called for the popular association of hummingbirds with sparkling, precious jewels.

Heade's paintings give a sense of the hummingbird's life cycle. Some of the pairs court, while others tend to eggs or offspring. The backgrounds often feature the mountain scenery of Brazil, where the artist visited in 1863, integrating the birds and butterflies into their natural environment. Heade's attempts to raise money to create a book of prints based on the canvases failed, perhaps because he presented an artistic view of the birds rather than simply portraying them as specimens.