THE METHODS AND MATERIALS OF MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE
ELIZABETH LETO FULTON
This article focuses on the findings of a collaborative technical research project on 50 paintings by Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904). This study, funded largely by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, is an extension and continuation of a study conducted at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, begun in the early 1990s. Only the results of the recent years' work are presented here.
To contribute further criteria for dating paintings and possibly to aid in authentication, the project attempts to describe and document the evolution of Heade's painting technique and to establish a chronology of the materials he used. However, the study involves 50 paintings (see appendix 1), the majority of them from the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This body of work is less than 10% of extant paintings ascribed to Heade. The exact number of his paintings is unknown, but to date 630 paintings are documented from his 60-year career. Those that were studied included paintings that spanned his entire career, but primarily from the 1860s and 1870s.
In the first half of the study beginning September 1996, paintings were brought into the paintings conservation studio for a systematic examination and extensive photodocumentation, which included infrared reflectography and study under ultraviolet illumination. Thirty-five mm slides were taken of the entire paintings as well as of details. Photomicrographs (also 35 mm) documenting condition and painting techniques were also taken at this time. Once the paintings were examined, reports were written and entered into a database to which conservators and art historians could refer.
The second half of the research, which began in March 1998, consisted of review and analyses of 21 of the initial 50 paintings. The 21 paintings were chosen largely because they are dated or are of particular interest; i.e., they are pivotal paintings or anomalies in the normal trend found within a given period. These paintings were analyzed for pigment identification using electron microprobe analysis, Fourier transform infrared microspectrometry (FTIR), x-ray fluorescence (XRF), polarized light microscopy (PLM), and ultraviolet illumination examination (UV). Analytical techniques are discussed in more detail in appendix 2. Media analyses were not conducted in this study.
Sample sites for all pigments were chosen largely for their interest or purity of colors to determine overall palette or color mixes in areas of multiple layers. In some cases pigments could not be determined by the above methods, and their results are not published in this article. The results presented in appendix 3 are those that were generally definitive of the group of 21 chosen for analysis.