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Monday, 3 August 2009

Fitz Hugh Lane (1804- 1865)

Stage Fort across Gloucester Harbor, 1862
Fitz Henry Lane.

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.’

By Alexandra A. Jopp

Fitz Hugh Lane (also known as Fitz Henry Lane), a founding figure of “Luminism,” was born Nathaniel Rogers Lane in Gloucester, Mass., on Dec. 19, 1804. A child prodigy, Lane would grow up to become one of the premier American artists of the nineteenth century, with works on display in 27 museums and the White House. His art retains a high status among collectors, and in 2004, his Manchester Harbor (1853) sold for $5.5 million at an auction in Boston.

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.
Lane’s work matured further after 1850. His paintings from this time are characterized by a new feeling of openness, and the last two last lithographs he produced – Castine from Hospital Island (1855) and View of Gloucester (1856) – are regarded as his finest prints. Castine, in particular, is his most striking lithograph, and it clearly captures his technical and stylistic advances. Lane’s depictions of seascapes resulted not from a desire to follow the fashion of his European peers but, rather, from a deep-rooted interest. And perhaps no one in Europe could have painted the extraordinary beauty of the azure coasts of New England with the expressiveness and luminosity of Fitz Hugh Lane.

Ship Starlight, c. 1860.

1: Craig, James A. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2006), p. 31.
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.
3: Ibid.

For more information please visit Questroyal Fine Art Gallery, NYC at

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Lane was born Dec. 19, 1804. At the age of eighteen months, while playing in the yard or garden of his father, he ate some of the seeds of the apple-peru; and was so unfortunate to lose the use of his lower limbs in consequence, owing to late and unskillful medical treatment. He showed in boyhood a talent for drawing and painting; but received no instruction in the rules till he went to Boston, at the age of twenty-eight, to work in Pendleton’s lithographic establishment. From that time, his taste and ability were rapidly developed; and after a residence of several years in Boston, he came back to Gloucester with a reputation fully established. Since his return to his native town, he has painted many pictures, all of which have been much admired.

    John J. Babson
    History of the Town of Gloucester, 1860