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Catalog entry

inv. 17
Ten Pound Island, Gloucester
1850s
Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. (46.4 x 76.8 cm)
27 x 37 in. (frame)
No inscription found
On view at the Cape Ann Museum

Commentary

This view of Ten Pound Island in late afternoon light is one of Lane’s harbor views in which the subject matter is as much the light and atmosphere as it is the boats and harbor. Ten Pound Island, Gloucester shows George Rogers’s wharf on Fort Point in the foreground. The stone pier on the right has already been completed and the wooden wharf is still being built. The pilings, looking like sharpened pencils, are laid out ready to be driven into the seabed.

While the true subject matter may be the hazy light of a late summer afternoon, there is much fascinating detail to engage the eye. In Lane’s typically dark foreground there is the pile of sharpened wharf pilings matching the angle of the lumber brig entering the harbor. Note the cluster of barrels with the open-topped one angled to match the fisherman's stance. Both are mirrored by the bowsprit of the lumber brig. An exquisitely drawn double-ended New England boat sits on the wharf. The sweep and bend of the planks running stem to stern and the weight and volume of the hull and its perfect symmetry create an almost-living form. One of Lane’s short-necked men in a red shirt leads the eye out of the deep browns of the foreground arrangement and into the light and open space of the water.

Ten Pound Island, shown in the center of the canvas, marks the entrance to Gloucester’s Inner Harbor and provides a buffer against the strong southerlies blowing into the harbor. The lighthouse was first lit in 1821. In 1880, Winslow Homer spent a summer in the lighthouse keeper’s house and painted fifty of his most masterful watercolors that year, many from the island. 

In the distance is Eastern Point, the southeasterly arm of Cape Ann and, barely visible between the masts of the lumber brig, the Eastern Point lighthouse, which marks the entrance to the Outer Harbor. The vessel heading to the left into the harbor is a lumber brig coming down from Maine or Canada with milled wood piled on deck. The three-masted ship to the right was likely a trader with Surinam or other foreign ports.

All the elements of the composition are carefully placed in a zig-zag fashion that was very common to Lane. Starting at the lower left, the eye is taken on a right diagonal along the path of the lumber brig to the three-masted ship, a direction reinforced by the pointing of the pilings on the wharf. At the ship, the eye is led to the left, back to the island and the ship just beyond it. The ship then leads one out diagonally beyond the island, along Eastern Point and out to the open ocean.

The water and sky appear as one vaporous substance in contrast to the dense materiality of the foreground wood and stone.The apricot hues of the late afternoon light touch every surface of boats, sails, island, and cloud and envelop each object in a diffused humidity. Lane’s color values are perfectly tuned within a very narrow range to convey the deep recession of space as the harbor opens out to the ocean. At the horizon line, ocean and sky merge in an almost pure-white band of light; the specks of boats provide just enough information for the eye to comprehend the vastness of the space Lane has conveyed.

–Sam Holdsworth 

George H. Rogers’s wharves and vessel activity

While this painting has been dated to the 1850s (or even to 1849), attempts to match the structures shown in this painting with those on a U.S. Coast Survey chart from that period, proved futile. Only when plotted on a chart prepared for the Gloucester Harbor Commissioners in 1865 could the viewpoint of the painting be aligned with the shape of George H. Rogers's wharves and their placement in relation to Eastern Point and Ten Pound Island. These wharves do not appear on the U.S. Coast Survey chart of 1855, but had been completed by 1865.

Sometime after 1855, George H. Rogers extended a bulkhead pier and by 1864 (as shown in Ten Pound Island in Gloucester Harbor, 1864 (inv. 104)), two finger piers (1 and 3) along the point’s southeast shore line. These were of stone construction, the finger piers jutting into the harbor at angles to keep within the Harbor Commissioner’s Line (see chart detail). At the time Lane made his drawing, one finger pier (3) was covered with lumber, possibly for a deck over the stonework. In his painting, the same wharf is covered with pilings  - called “spiles” by Gloucester mariners. A double-ended New England boat (4) sits among them without a clue to how it got there. At least one “wharf rat” has found his way onto the pier to fish for his supper, while another surveys the scene from his perch in the New England boat.

The piers are notable for their stone work. Unlike their predecessors of cob wharf construction, their stone blocks are quarried granite, carefully shaped and fitted, with no jagged sides or irregular joiner work. This was probably the first wharf (actually a complex of wharves) in Gloucester Harbor to use quarried stone and careful joinery.

George  H. Rogers was a major figure in Gloucester’s foreign trade, particularly that with Surinam. This wharf complex was his response to the employment of ever-larger ships in maritime commerce and the problems a shallow harbor posed for berthing them. Jutting out into deeper water, the wharf gave Rogers’ ships better loading accommodations and faster turnaround time, but not for much longer. Even these wharves were in water too shallow for ever-larger vessels, forcing Rogers to join other Gloucester merchants who had moved their businesses to Boston and its deeper harbor. This exodus marked a turnaround for the town’s fishing fleet, which soon reoccupied Harbor Cove. Improvements in fishing technology, and the arrival of immigrants who manned the vessels, restored the port to its dominance of the New England fisheries.

Looking south to the Outer Harbor, we see examples of vessels which typified this period of transition. The full-rigged ship (5) was the vessel type that was coming to dominate the Surinam Trade – at least triple the tonnage of the earlier Surinam brigs like “Cadet" Brig "Cadet" in Gloucester Harbor, late 1840s (inv. 13). The half-brig (6) – a “lumber brig” in this case – enters port with her hold and deck piled high with milled boards – a sign of building activity for both business and housing. Two coasting schooners (7) also hint at needs for business and domestic goods as the town’s population grew from 7,786 to 10,904 between 1850 and 1860. Two schooners (8) are probably fishermen, their low profile suggesting that the fisheries were then just beginning their return to former prosperity.

– Erik Ronnberg

 

 

Key to vessels

Related Work in the Catalog

Supplementary Images

Detail of 1865 Gloucester Harbor Commissioners' map showing wharf limits
Ten Pound Island, Gloucester (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cape Ann Museum
Ten Pound Island, Gloucester (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cape Ann Museum
Infrared image (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cape Ann Museum
1865 Gloucester Harbor Commissioners' map showing wharf limits

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Mass.
Captain Richard Goss Stanwood, Jr. and Hannah Fuller Smith Stanwood
Richard Goss Stanwood, Marysville, Calif., 1917
Bessie Stanwood, Marysville, Calif., 1948
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., February 1948

Exhibition History

Cape Ann Historical Association, Gloucester, Massachusetts, Training the Eye and Hand: Fitz Hugh Lane and Nineteenth Century American Drawing Books, September 17, 1993–January 29, 1994.

Published References

The American Neptune, Pictorial Supplement VII: A Selection of Marine Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865. Salem, MA: The American Neptune, 1965., pl. IV, no. 4. ⇒ includes text
Martha Oaks. "Gloucester At Mid-Century: The World of Fitz Hugh Lane, 1840–1865." Gloucester, Mass.: Cape Ann Historical Society. (exhibition catalogue)., ill., p. 21. ⇒ includes text
Training the Eye and the Hand: Fitz Hugh Lane and 19th Century Drawing Books. Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Historical Association, 1993., fig. 25, p. 33, text, pp. 25–26.
Craig, James. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006., pl. 6.

Related historical materials

Gloucester Buildings & Businesses
Cape Ann Locales
Vessel Types
Flags, Lighthouses, & Navigation Aids
Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities
Citation: "Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 17)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=17 (accessed August 17, 2017).
Record last updated March 21, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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