Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871
Oil on panel
Martin Johnson Heade was a self-confessed 'monomaniac' about hummingbirds and painted these tiny, brilliantly-coloured birds from the 1860s until his death. Generally small in scale and vivid in colour, and with exotic jungle settings, his paintings often include a magnificent orchid in flower, a plant of comparable exoticism to the bird. Heade made three trips to Central and South America between 1863 and 1870. He took considerable pride in the fact that his specimens—unlike his rival John Gould’s-were drawn directly from nature.
In this imaginary scene, Heade brings together species from different regions in Central and South America. The upper two birds have been identified as male and female amethyst woodstars (calliphlox amethystina), a Brazilian species, and the other as a male red-tailed comet (sappho sparganura), found in Ecuador and Columbia but not Brazil. The orchid, Cattleya labiata, is a native of Brazil and one of the most popular of those introduced early in Europe, named in honour of William Cattley of Barnet, in North London.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation