Charles E. Heil

1870 – 1950

Charles Heil has often been compared with artist James Audubon who preceded him by a century. Like Audubon, Heil specialized in ornithological subjects. Although his powers of observation enabled him to render his subjects accurately, his main motivation was not factual recording for scientific purposes. Instead, his love of birds combined with his aesthetic goals so his drawings and prints are first of all works of art.

Heil was born in Massachusetts. As a boy his favorite thing to draw was birds. His early formal studies were at the “Free Evening Drawing Classes” in Boston and later at Cowles Art School. For two years he studied in Paris and had his first exhibitions there. During that period his subjects included portraits, landscapes, and animal studies.

Shortly after his return to Boston, the passion for drawing birds developed in his childhood once again exerted itself and became the subject to which he devoted the rest of his artistic life. His media included etching, drawing, and watercolor. Many works were single birds like the one here. He also did groups of birds in compositions influenced by Japanese prints. Perhaps the “bird’s eye view” perspective appealed to him. He would likely have first seen imported Japanese prints during his time in Paris where their distinctive spatial organization was influential to the late 19th century painters there.

Heil’s work was respected by his peers and he had considerable success during his lifetime. He won a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. His exhibitions were reviewed favorably by critics. At the time of his death, the Boston Public Library acquired a complete set of his ornithological etchings. His work is in numerous museums including:

The Smithsonian Institution, Yale University Art Gallery, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Cincinnati Museum of Art in the United States as well as the Munich Institute in Germany, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in France.

“Young Bluejay”
signed in pencil in the margin
image size 4 7/8” x 3 7/8”
paper size 8 1/8” x 7 1/8”
Archivally framed