There are no alligators in Martin Johnson Heade's 'The Great Florida Sunset,' only the ghosts of alligators. Perhaps a single pair of twinkling alligator eyes above half-submerged snout appear somewhere in the still waters, but if so I can't find them. Even the trees seem like portentous, shadowy phantoms arising from the grave of the day to bid the blood-red clouds adieu. Of course, it's probably all a dockside gated community now, or the parking lot for Salty Jack's Seafood Shack.
In addition to his many moody coastal scenes, Heade also produced colorful images of tropical birds and plants. I don't recall an image of a mosquito gracing his oeuvre but he clearly had ample opportunity to paint one. Which is interesting, because the artist must have been bitten to shreds when en plein air. Heade probably walked home with his easel tucked under his arm looking like the wildest-eyed Van Gogh with measles. So is it possible that the aforementioned "blood-red" clouds in 'The Great Florida Sunset' are not simply a straightforward representation of atmospheric conditions but are actually a meditation upon the difficult and often painful conditions faced by nineteenth-century landscape painters?
Professional art critics are strangely silent on this subject. But if the Metropolitan Museum of Art would like me to lecture on the symbolism of bug bites in landscape art, I am available and can be contacted via the Email Me link on this blog.