Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ars Animalis | Cattleya Orchard and Three Brazilian Hummingbirds

"The hummingbird competes with the stillness of the air." -- Chogyam Trungpa (1939-1987), Buddhist meditation master

[Animals were there at the beginning of art. But how did we get from Chauvet to "Dogs Playing Poker" and beyond? That's one of the questions 13.7 will be asking with this month's series, "Ars Animalis"—art of the animals.]

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) was an American painter most known for his depictions of New England coastal salt marsh landscapes. Though his peers were Romantics and landscape painters from the Hudson River School, he is considered to be a departure from these styles. Instead of grandiose depictions of the Hudson River Valley, he chose quiet and restrained portrayals, focusing on the repetition of certain motifs and the accurate rendition of light and atmospheric conditions.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Heade made several trips to Central and South America, where he painted over forty works depicting exotic tropical bird species, many of them hummingbirds. This one, Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, an oil on mahogany panel from 1871, was part of a series planned for a book called The Gems of Brazil, which may have been inspired by the works of Charles Darwin and Frederic Edwin Church. Though the book was never completed, Heade continued to paint hummingbirds, often in combination with orchids.

The painting is housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which offers this description:

"Lichen covers dead branches; moss drips from trees; and, a blue-gray mist veils the distant jungle. An opulent pink orchid with light-green stems and pods dominates the left foreground. To the right, perched near a nest on a branch, are a Sappho Comet, green with a yellow throat and brilliant red tail feathers, and two green-and-pink Brazilian Amethysts."

Human activity—in particular logging and urban sprawl—have destroyed vast stretches of wild bird habitat. Since 1967, for example, the population of Rufous Hummingbirds have declined 60 percent, according to the Audubon Society. "Mounting threats are putting dozens, if not scores, of bird species in immediate peril," wrote David Yarnold, president and CEO of Audubon, in an email in December. "Many of these species were considered common just four decades ago."

  • Tell Reckitt Benckiser, Spectrum Brands and Liphatech to stop flouting government safety rules and stop selling rat poisons that have caused fatal hemorrhaging in owls, Bald Eagles and other birds and wildlife. Most recently, a Red-tailed Hawk, the mate of the renowned and beloved Pale Male, was killed in New York City. (American Bird Conservancy)
  • Tell Congress you support the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which provides support for or vital conservation efforts, including monitoring efforts, habitat restoration, education, and other projects in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. (Audubon Society)
  • Follow 13.7 Billion Years on Twitter

image: Cattleya Orchid and Three Brazilian Hummingbirds (1871), by Martin Johnson Heade, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

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