There’s something incredibly eerie about Martin Johnson Heade’s Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds. Painted in 1871, it is part of a series of paintings Heade completed of humminbirds and flowers in Brazil.
The National Gallery of Art writes: “Perhaps inspired by the writings of Charles Darwin, the artist studied these subjects in the wild during several expeditions to South America.”
It clearly isn’t, however, a painting directly from life.
And that’s where the eeriness comes in.
With its sudden leap from close-up still life to distant landscape, its vivid colors, and its ambiguous lighting, Cattleya Orchid seems simultaneously plausible and imagined, resulting in a surreal compromise.
The shock of bright blue sky behind a grey-brown and vine-covered branch heightens the effect.