Painting in the English and Dutch seascape tradition, Lane became one of America’s most admired marine painters, a skillful lithographer and the founding father of ‘Luminism.’
|Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865), Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester, c. 1864, oil on canvas, John Wilmderding Collection.|
This posthumous prosperity, though, is in stark contrast to Lane’s difficult childhood. His oldest brother, Steven, died in 1815, a year after his father, Jonathan, a local sail maker, died from fever. Lane himself was unable to walk, having lost the use of his legs to infantile paralysis soon after turning 2 years old. Through these hardships, he relied on a deep spirituality, and he began to find himself in drawing. At about 15, he worked for a brief time as a shoemaker, but as his nephew Edward Lane observed, “after a while, seeing that he could draw pictures better than he could make shoes, he went to Boston and took lessons in drawing and painting and became a marine artist.”1
In Boston, Lane worked as an apprentice in Pendleton’s lithography shop, where he made small topographic sketches of Boston Harbor and found success with View of the Town of Gloucester, Mass. (1836). Lane also worked at, among other places, the lithography shop of artist Thomas Moran (sometime between 1835-1840) before forming his own lithography shop with friend J.W.A. Scott, a marine painter. Here, Lane produced panoramic scenes of coastal New England and, inspired by European artists Robert Salmon (1775-1848) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), began to paint in oils. His subjects included landscapes, marines and, occasionally, ship portraits. He turned his full attention to marine painting when he moved back to Gloucester in 1848, perfecting “luminist” techniques, such as painting “a cool, undiluted light that rendered that harbor and shore with great clarity and captured the subtle changes in atmospheric effects.”2 His works would bring fame to his hometown: “It was Gloucester’s native son, Fitz Hugh Lane,” one art historian noted, “who immortalized the town in numerous painted views from 1848 until his death in 1865.”3 He built a house overlooking the harbor and lived there for the rest of his life, making occasional trips to Maine, where he produced images of dawn and dusk in hot cadmium colors such as Twilight on the Kennebec (1849), which is considered to be one of the premier expressions of his artistic vision.
|Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865), Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857, oil on canvas, John Wilmerding Collection.|
|Ship Starlight, c. 1860.|
2: Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: A Historical Guide to America’s Original Art Colonies and Their Artists (Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 38.