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View of the Town of Gloucester, Mass., 1835-1836, by Fitz Henry Lane

View of the Town of Gloucester, Mass., 1835-1836, by Fitz Henry Lane. Lithograph

Fitz H. Lane [1].  Gloucester, Massachusetts 1804 - 1865 Gloucester, Massachusetts. View of the Town of Gloucester, Mass., 1835 - 1836. Lithograph, 18 13/16 x 24 ½ in.  Boston: Printed by Pendleton’s Lithography. Gift of the New England Historical Art Society, 1950.

 

This fine view of the Gloucester harbor is an early example of the work of the luminist painter Fitz H. Lane. At the time of its creation, Lane’s reputation, and indeed the entire concept of luminism, as an artistic movement, had yet to be established. In 1835 Lane was an apprentice at the Pendleton lithographic firm in Boston, an excellent environment for an aspiring artist.  There were few American art academies during the early to mid-nineteenth century, and Pendleton’s shop filled an important pedagogical gap. Although it was a commercial enterprise, the firm hired talented, mostly self-taught artists, and trained them in the fundamentals of drawing and lithography. The workshop was a beehive of gifted artists, many of whom would achieve considerable renown later in their careers. But even among such colleagues as William Rimmer, David Claypoole Johnston, and Robert Cooke, Fitz H. Lane stood out as particularly accomplished. The landscapist Benjamin Champney, a co-worker of Lane’s, recalled that the firm’s “fine work was done by F. H. Lane. He was very accurate in his drawing, understood perspective and naval architecture perfectly as well as the handling of vessels, and was a good all-round draftsman.”[2]

By 1835 Lane had already served three years of his Pendleton apprenticeship and, perhaps tiring of the uninspiring commercial fare of music sheet covers and advertisements, decided to tackle an ambitious city view, choosing as his subject the harbor of his hometown of Gloucester.  The print was offered for sale by subscription, and its progress was duly recorded by the local newspaper, the Gloucester Telegraph.   Lane’s original drawing for the lithograph received considerable praise in the Telegraph: “the mirror-like surface and graceful bends of the harbor, studded here and there with the most exquisitely drawn vessels; the lofty hills which nearly encompass the town, and last, our handsomely situated, and really handsome village forms the most beautiful picture of the kind we ever saw.”[3]  The lithograph took nearly seven months to complete, indicating that Lane took considerable time and trouble with his first formal cityscape, using the medium to excellent effect to create rich tonal qualities.

Lane apparently was encouraged by the public’s response, for he steadily began to produce a number of lithographic city views for Pendleton’s and its successor firms. In 1844 he started his own lithographic firm with the marine painter John W. A. Scott, and together they produced several city and harbor views.  In 1847 Lane returned to Gloucester and his artistic reputation grew steadily. Although his focus was now on painting, he produced the occasional lithograph, often in concert with various Boston lithographic firms.[4]

The Boston Athenæum owns nearly thirty examples of Lane’s printmaking career; these examples encompass the full range of Lane’s work in the medium: music sheet covers, advertisements, certificates, depictions of historical events, landscapes, and harbor and city views. Such significant holdings might have amused the artist. He exhibited his first painting at the Athenæum’s gallery in 1841. That same year, he and several of his former Pendleton co-workers, angered at the lack of exhibition space the Boston Athenæum was making available to American artists, established the Boston Artists’ Association. The Association opened a gallery and for the few short years of its existence, Lane exhibited his paintings there, effectively boycotting the Athenæum’s annual exhibitions. In 1845 the Athenæum, realizing the public’s interest in contemporary American artists, began to hold joint exhibitions with the Boston Artists’ Association, and Lane once again began to exhibit his paintings at the Athenæum.[5]

The three Lane lithographs discussed here were all given to the Athenæum by Charles E. Mason, Jr., and the New England Historical Art Society. The current Prints & Photographs Department grew out of that generosity, and today its mission is to collect and interpret the work of local graphic artists and to document New England culture and environment. Lane’s View of Gloucester, Mass. is evidence of the fulfillment of that mission, for the print not only documents an important moment in the career of one of New England’s most beloved artists, but it also records the visual appearance of one of New England’s most cherished harbor towns.

Catharina Slautterback from, Stanley Ellis Cushing and David B. Dearinger, eds., Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum (2006): 301-302. Copyright © The Boston Athenæum.

[1] Lane was christened Nathaniel Rogers Lane. In December 1831 he changed his name to Fitz Henry Lane, but he was known inaccurately as Fitz Hugh Lane for most of the twentieth century. The Magazine Antiques 167 (June 2005): 48.
[2]Benjamin Champney, Sixty Years’ Memories of Arts and Artists(Woburn, Massachusetts:,1900), 10.
[3]Gloucester Telegraph, August 15, 1835.
[4]Many of Lane’s later lithographs were destroyed when a fire swept through Gloucester’s waterfront, consuming the shop of Lane’s most prominent dealer.
[5]Lane’s signature appears in a manuscript copy of the Association’s constitution (Boston Athenæum).  For a brief account of the Boston Artists’ Association, see Climate for Art (1980), 14-15.  For a listing of Lane’s paintings exhibited at the Boston Athenæum see Perkins and Gavin, 90.