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Catalog entry

inv. 18
The Western Shore with Norman's Woe
Norman's Woe
1862
Oil on canvas
22 1/8 x 36 1/4 in. (56.2 x 92.1 cm)
31 x 44 in. (frame)
No inscription found
On view at the Cape Ann Museum

Commentary

This painting is a masterpiece of Lane’s late work. The pellucid calm of the cove, the otherworldly glow of early twilight, the empty stage set of the beach spotted by the dark rocks of low tide, Norman’s Woe glowing in the distance—all epitomize the direction of Lane’s late work and the transcendent luminism for which he is most famous. Perhaps no other painting by Lane better embodies the transcendentalist’s vision of the presence of God and of man merging with a pristine Nature.

Though we have no direct evidence of Lane’s association with transcendentalist thought, he was certainly exposed to it through multiple lectures in Gloucester by Emerson and Thoreau. It is hard not to associate The Western Shore with Norman's Woe with the oft-quoted line from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s "Nature," “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me...” Lane’s lifelong fascination with the detail and anecdote of ships and harbors has been distilled into this pure expression of light and place, truly a masterpiece of the “poetry of emptiness,” a term often applied by scholars to Lane’s late work.

The painting is taken from a drawing, Norman's Woe, 1861 (inv. 114), on which it is noted that two paintings were made, one for Florence Foster and one for Benjamin H. Smith. Florence Foster was a good friend of Isabel Lane, who donated this picture to the Cape Ann Museum, suggesting that perhaps this was the version made for her.

The drawing is more fully developed and shaded than many of Lane’s sketches and is carefully gridded into squares for transfer onto canvas. Note the more prominent foliage in the left foreground of the drawing that is de-emphasized in this version of the painting, though more accurately reproduced in the other, Norman's Woe, Gloucester Harbor, 1862 (inv. 1). It may have been that Lane did that version first in a larger and more horizontal format, and then removed some of the detail and compressed the scene in this second version.

The composition takes the eye in an arc around the cove and out to the small island called Norman’s Woe, which glows in the distance. The foliage in the center foreground of the beach—shown in the drawing—has been removed, allowing the eye to proceed directly into the glassy calm of the cove and out to the sky and the cloud-form building in the distance. The far-off ship gives scale and distance to the scene while the pinky, with its sails set but nearly adrift, provides a boundary to the left edge of the composition.

The seaweed-covered rocks are an impossibly rich dark brown, in startling contrast to the brilliant sky that is reflected in the water of the cove. Note the colors in the sky, which transition from a purple in the upper left through a series of almost metallic, coppery yellows to the right. Seen at close hand, the coloration is almost surreal. It is not what one expects in a twilight sky and water, yet when one steps back, the colors integrate into a pervasive evening glow that is much more than the sum of its parts.

– Sam Holdsworth

Related Work in the Catalog

Supplementary Images

Infrared image (detail of grass in foreground)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cape Ann Museum
Infrared image (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cape Ann Museum
Infrared image (detail of reflection)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cape Ann Museum
Viewpoint chart showing Lane's location when making this image
The Western Shore with Norman's Woe (detail of monument on Norman's Woe)
Photo: © Cape Ann Museum

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Mass.
Isabel Babson Lane
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., September 1946

Exhibition History

National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875, February 10–June 15, 1980.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, May 15–September 5, 1988., no. 17, ill. in color, p. 12.
Traveled to: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass., October 5–December 31, 1988.
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.
Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, The Mysteries of Fitz Henry Lane, July 7–September 16, 2007., no. 10, ill. in color, p. 59.
Traveled to: Spanierman Gallery, New York, N.Y., October 4–December 1, 2007.

Published References

Wilmerding, John, ed. American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1980., fig. 32, pp. 40–41, text, p. 261, as Norman's Woe.
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Wilmerding, John. Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1988., no. 17, ill. in color, p. 12.
Moses, Michael A. "Mary B. Mellen and Fitz Hugh Lane." Antiques Magazine Vol. CXL, No. 5 (November 1991)., pl. XII, p. 831, text p. 833. ⇒ includes text
Training the Eye and the Hand: Fitz Hugh Lane and 19th Century Drawing Books. Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Historical Association, 1993., fig. 30, pp. 32–33.
Davis, Elliot Bostwick. "American Drawing Books and Their Impact on Fitz Hugh Lane." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 105, part 1 (1995)., fig. 12, p. 103, text, p. 102. ⇒ includes text
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995., no. 26, p.44.
Worley, Sharon. "Mapping the Metaphysical Landscape off Cape Ann: The Reception of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalism Among the Gloucester Audience of Reverend Amory Dwight Mayo and Fitz Hugh Lane." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 29:2 (Summer 2001). View online », as The Western Shore with Norman's Woe. ⇒ includes text
Worley, Sharon. "Fitz Hugh Lane and the Legacy of the Codfish Aristocracy." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 32, no. 1 (Winter 2004)., fig. 3, p. 77, text, p. 79. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Henry Lane. Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Historical Association, 2005. Reprint of Fitz Hugh Lane, by John Wilmerding. New York: Praeger, 1971. Includes new information regarding the artist's name., ill. 80.
Craig, James. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006., fig. 98.
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2007., no. 10, p. 59. ⇒ includes text
H. Travers Newton, Jr. "Fitz Henry Lane's Series Paintings of 'Brace's Rock': Meaning and Technique." Terra Foundation for American Art. Unpublished report., as The Western Shore with Norman's Woe. ⇒ includes text
Swift, Matthew. "Miraculous Detail: The Legacy of Fitz Henry Lane." Art New England (July/August 2016)., as The Western Shore with Norman's Woe. ⇒ includes text

Related historical materials

Cape Ann Locales
Vessel Types
Flags, Lighthouses, & Navigation Aids
People
Citation: "The Western Shore with Norman's Woe, 1862 (inv. 18)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=18 (accessed April 30, 2017).
Record last updated March 14, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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