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Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, c. 1890

Martin Johnson Heade

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Gift of The Circle of the National Gallery of Art in Commemoration of its 10th Anniversary

oil on canvas

At the age of sixty-four, after a modestly successful career painting landscapes, marine subjects, and still lifes, Martin Johnson Heade settled in St. Augustine, Florida and found his first steady patron. His newfound personal and professional stability may have helped to energize his interest in and approach to a new subject. This painting of a Giant Magnolia is one of about a dozen variations. The series, in which the white blossoms are often placed on a velvet cloth, are rendered as sensually as a female nude and are among the most original still lifes of the nineteenth century.