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Catalog entry

inv. 29
Three Master on the Gloucester Railways
Oil on canvas
39 1/4 x 59 1/4 in. (99.7 x 150.5 cm)
55 x 76 in. (frame)
No inscription found
On view at the Cape Ann Museum


 This large painting was created in 1857 by Fitz Henry Lane as a sign to be hung outside John Trask’s paint shop at Burnham Brothers’ marine railway. The ship “California” belonging to Gloucester and Boston merchant George H. Rogers is shown hauled out for repairs and painting. On the adjacent railway is a schooner receiving similar attention.

In 1876, when John Trask was elected to Gloucester’s Common Council, he gave "Three Master on the Gloucester Railways" to the citizens of the city to hang in City Hall. Before it was displayed, Trask had artist Addison Center (1830-92) “retouch” the painting, perhaps repairing damage that was done during the years the work hung over the paint shop. No record survives of exactly how much work Center did on the canvas; it is possible that it was extensive.

The painting in its current state is deceptive, having lost much of the exacting detail for which its artist was known. An article which appeared in the Cape Ann Advertiser after the painting was hung “over the paint shop of Mr. John Trask” suggests that it did exhibit more detail when new. A photograph taken in 1890 confirms this, but also shows that weather and cleaning had already taken a toll. A comparison of the painting in its present state with the photograph indicates that further erosion of surface detail has happened due to further cleaning.

Loss of paint, color intensity, and detail has flattened the image, divesting the composition of a sense of depth – something Lane was a master at capturing in his work. This effect was somewhat abetted by the distance from the subject from the artist, who made the drawing from Rocky Neck, thereby visually compressing the image’s foreground and background.

This picture is the only business sign that Fitz Henry Lane is known to have created.

- Martha Oaks and Erik Ronnberg


Viewpoint chart showing location of buildings in Lane's painting. 

The Cape Ann Advertiser of August 1, 1857 contained the following announcement:

“PRETTY SIGN. – If our readers wish to see something pretty, let them walk down to Burnham Bros. Railway, and take a peep at the new sign recently hung out over the paint shop of Mr. John Trask. It is a painting on canvass 4 1/2 feet by 5, executed by Fitz H. Lane, Esq., representing a view of Burnham Bros. Railways, the wharf and stores adjoining. The front view represents the ‘way’s’ with a ship and schooner receiving a coat of paint. The workshop and counting-room of Burnham Bros., and the buildings of Mr. Joseph Shepherd, together with the old Parrot and Caswell houses are plainly visible. In the background a partial view of the residence of Capt. F. Norwood, on Spring street, the Universalist Church, on Elm St., Capt. Isaac Somes’ residence on Pleasant St., and several other buildings on Prospect St. The view was taken from Rocky Neck and makes a very pretty picture.”


Identification of buildings and wharves in painting.

Supplementary Images

Photograph taken by Walter Gardner c1890, from James Pringle collection. The photograph shows the im... [more]age prior to cleaning.
Photo: James Pringle
© Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive
Detail of painting showing construction of marine railway
Photo: © Cape Ann Museum
Viewpoint chart showing location of buildings in Lane's painting.

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Mass.
John Trask
City of Gloucester, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1876
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., May 1952

Exhibition History

National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, May 15–September 5, 1988., no. 39, ill. in color, p. 94.
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.

Published References

Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865: American Marine Painter. Salem, MA: The Essex Institute, 1964., fig. 5, p. 23, text, p. 22.
The American Neptune, Pictorial Supplement VII: A Selection of Marine Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865. Salem, MA: The American Neptune, 1965., plate XXIII, no. 88. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane. New York: Praeger, 1971.
Stoltenberg, Donald. Drawing and Painting the Built Environment. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1980.
Hoffman, Katherine. "The Art of Fitz Hugh Lane." Essex Institute Historical Collections 119 (1983)., p. 33.
Wilmerding, John. Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1988., no. 39, ill. in color, p. 94.
Worley, Sharon. "Fitz Hugh Lane and the Legacy of the Codfish Aristocracy." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 32, no. 1 (Winter 2004)., p. 72. ⇒ 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. 71, text, pp. 69-70, as Three Master on the Gloucester Railways.
Craig, James. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006., pl. 9, text, pp. 86, 108.
Craig, James. "Fitz Henry Lane: An Affinity for the Sea." Fine Art Connoisseur: The Premier Magazine for Important Collectors 3, Issue 4 (August 2006)., ill., p. 27, text, p. 30.
Lovell, Margaretta. "'Fitz Henry Lane, Spectateur de l'Histoire' ('Watching History—Fitz Henry Lane and the Revolutionary Past in Antebellum New England')." In Refaire L'Amerique: Imaginaire et Histoire des Etats-Unis, Didier Aubert & Helene Quanquin. Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2011, pp. 47–61., fig. 6, p. 59, as Three Master on the Gloucester Railways. ⇒ includes text
Citation: "Three Master on the Gloucester Railways, 1857 (inv. 29)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=29 (accessed March 25, 2019).
Record last updated May 8, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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