This painting was based on a sketch of an approaching storm that Heade witnessed on Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay about 1858. Even when he painted storms, as here, he portrayed not the actual tempest, but its tense preamble of blackening sky and eerily illumined terrain.
Martin Johnson Heade (August 11, 1819 – September 4, 1904) was an American painter known for his salt marsh landscapes, seascapes, and depictions of tropical birds (such as hummingbirds), as well as lotus blossoms and other still lifes. His painting style and subject matter, while derived from the romanticism of the time, are regarded by art historians as a significant departure from those of his peers.
Heade was not a widely known artist during his lifetime, but his work attracted the notice of scholars, art historians, and collectors during the 1940s. He quickly became recognized as a major American artist. Although often considered a Hudson River School artist, some critics and scholars take exception to this categorization. The leading Heade scholar and author of Heade's catalogue raisonné, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., wrote some years after the 1987 exhibition, "Other scholars—myself included—have increasingly come to doubt that Heade is most usefully seen as standing within that school."
Heade had less interest in topographically accurate views than the Hudson River painters, and instead focused on mood and the effects of light. Stebbins wrote, "If the paintings of the shore as well as the more conventional compositions...might lead one to think of Heade as a Hudson River School painter, the [marsh scenes] make it clear that he was not."
Heade's works are now in major museums and collections. His paintings are occasionally discovered in unlikely places such as garage sales and flea markets.