Heade’s depictions of the sea are characteristically disquieting, with harsh, cold light, jutting rocks, and dark, empty water. This painting is a prime example in a series of coastal views painted by Heade in the 1860s, all apparently stimulated by the Rhode Island coast. Intent on conveying mood and capturing the fleeting, often hostile elements of nature, Heade sacrificed realistic representation, while elongating form, distorting perspective, and exaggerating color contrasts. The soft ribbons of the clouds, chosen to reinforce the horizontal rhythms of the composition, are a signature of Heade’s work. The incoming waves, frozen in time at the peak of cresting, contribute to the surreal effect.
Artist Martin Johnson Heade, American, 1819-1904
  • Seascape: Sunset
Date 1861
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 26 × 44 inches (66 × 111.8 cm)
Framed: 39 1/4 × 57 1/4 × 4 1/2 inches (99.7 × 145.4 × 11.4 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund
Accession Number 1995.26
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W280, Level 2 (see map)
Signed Signed and dated, lower left, under rocks: M.J. Heade | 1861
Inscriptions Original colorman stencil, on verso: Vose & Jenckes | dealers in artist materials, | frames, engravers & co. | Prov. RI
1959, Maxim Karolik collection (Newport, Rhode Island, USA).
Mr. J. Watson Webb.
his wife, Electra Havemeyer Webb.
Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, Vermont, USA).
1991-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Boston.Williams & Everett, 1861. [possibly this picture]

National Academy of Design. New York, 1861, no. 227. [as Marine Sunset]

New York Daily Tribune. (March 27, 1861): p. 8.

New York World. (April 6, 1861): p. 3.

Stebbins, T.E., Jr. The Life and Works of Martin Johnson Heade. New Haven, 1975, p. 220, no. 43 (ill.).

Muller, N.C. Paintings and Drawings at the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont. Exh. cat., Shelburne Museum. Shelburne, VT, 1976, p. 74, no. 158 (ill.).

The Hudson River School: Congenial Observations. Exh. cat., Alexander Gallery. New York, 1987, no. 11 (ill.).

Cumming, Robert. Art: A Field Guide. New York, 2001, p. 115 (ill.).