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Catalog entry

inv. 250
Wreck of the Roma
Ship "Roma" in Distress; Ship Wreck off the New England Coast
Oil on canvas
17 7/8 x 27 in. (45.4 x 68.6 cm)
Signed lower right: F H Lane
Dated verso (prior to relining): 1846; inscribed verso (in chalk): 6 prints; inscribed verso on stretcher (in chalk): COL; inscribed verso on stretcher (in pencil): # 25399/ 18 x 27; inscribed verso on frame: 20969-1


Commentary essay to come.

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Subject Types:   Coastal Scene »
Landscape Types:   Beach »
Vessel Activites:   In Distress »   //   Wreck »
Animals & People:   Livestock (horse / sheep / cow) »
Activities of People:   Boat Salvage »
Objects:   American Flag / Ensign »   //   Barrel »   //   Flotsam »   //   Wagon / Cart »

Historical Materials
Below is historical information related to the Lane work above. To see complete information on a subject on the Historical Materials page, click on the subject name (in bold and underlined).

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The ensign of the United States refers to the flag of the United States when used as a maritime flag to indentify nationality. As required on entering port, a vessel would fly her own ensign at the stern, but a conventional  token of respect to the host country would be to fly the flag of the host country (the United States in Boston Harbor, for example) at the foremast. See The "Britannia" Entering Boston Harbor, 1848 (inv. 49) for an example of a ship doing this. The American ensign often had the stars in the canton arranged in a circle with one large star in the center; an alternative on merchant ensigns was star-shaped constellation. In times of distress a ship would fly the ensign upside down, as can be seen in Wreck of the Roma, 1846 (inv. 250).

 The use of flags on vessels is different from the use of flags on land. The importance and history of the flagpole in Fresh Water Cove in Gloucester is still being studied.

The modern meaning of the flag was forged in December 1860, when Major Robert Anderson moved the U.S. garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Adam Goodheart argues this was the opening move of the American Civil War, and the flag was used throughout northern states to symbolize American nationalism and rejection of secessionism.

Before that day, the flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, and displayed on special occasions like American Independence day. But in the weeks after Major Anderson's surprising stand, it became something different. Suddenly the Stars and Stripes flew—as it does today, and especially as it did after the September 11 attacks in 2001—from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above the village greens and college quads. For the first time American flags were mass-produced rather than individually stitched and even so, manufacturers could not keep up with demand. As the long winter of 1861 turned into spring, that old flag meant something new. The abstraction of the Union cause was transfigured into a physical thing: strips of cloth that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for.

– Adam Goodheart, Prologue of 1861: The Civil War Awakening (2011).

photo (historical)
Cape Ann Scenery: No. 52 Fresh Water Cove
John S. E. Rogers, Publisher
Stereograph card
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive

A view of a Cove on the western side of Gloucester Harbor, with the landing at Brookbank. Houses are seen in the woods back. A boat with two men is in the foreground.

Also filed under: Brookbank »   //  Fresh Water Cove »   //  Historic Photographs »

Oak Hall Pictorial: This is Oak Hall, in North Street Boston
Friend to American Enterprise
Unpaginated booklet
Courtesy American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass. (CL.F9116.011.1854 CL.F9116.011.1854)

Also filed under: Oak Hall »

Oak Hall Pictorial: This is the flag that waves on high
Friend to American Enterprise
Unpaginated booklet
Courtesy American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass. (CL.F9116.011.1854)

Also filed under: Oak Hall »


Exhibition History

1970 Schweitzer Gallery: Schweitzer Gallery, New York, New York, 40th Anniversary Exhibition, no. 9, Ship "Roma" in Distress.
2005 Cummer Museum: The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida.
2005–06 Frick Art and Historical Center: The Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
2005–06 Santa Fe Museum: Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Strokes of Genius: Masterworks from the New Britain Museum of Art.
2010 Nassau County Museum: Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York, The Sea around Us.
2011 Brigham Young University: Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah, The Yankee Spirit: Highlights from the New Britain Museum.
2011 Westervelt-Warner Museum: Westervelt-Warner Museum of Art, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
2012–13 Nassau County Museum: Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York, Artists in America: Highlights from the Collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art.

Published References

Wilmerding 1971a: Fitz Hugh Lane.
New Britain Museum 1981: Supplement to the Catalogue of the Collection.
New Britain Museum 1999: Highlights of the Collection, ill., p. 99.
Newton 2010: "Fitz Henry Lane's Series Paintings of "Brace's Rock": Meaning and Technique," Wreck of the Roma. ⇒ includes text
Schwartz 2010: The Sea around Us.

Related historical materials

Flags, Lighthouses, & Navigation Aids
Citation: "Wreck of the Roma, 1846 (inv. 250)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed May 29, 2024).
Record last updated January 22, 2016. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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