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Catalog entry

inv. 296
Pilot Pendant: Approaching
Oil on canvas
14 x 17 in. (35.6 x 43.2 cm)
Private collection


Pilot Pendant: Approaching (inv. 296) and Pilot Pendant: Departing (inv. 297) were in all likelihood created as a pair, or pendants, probably to be mounted side-by-side, or possibly in corresponding niches flanking a fireplace or on a symmetrically paneled wall. They depict a large American frigate hove-to off Boston Harbor, in company of a Boston pilot schooner in the course of leaving port (Pilot Pendant: Approaching (inv. 296)) or returning (Pilot Pendant: Departing (inv. 297)). The paintings have been in the same family since around 1860. According to the family, they were given to their relative Jonathan Smith by John M. Forbes sometime prior to Smith’s death in 1863. Smith was a ship’s captain, possibly for R.B. Forbes in the China trade. He contracted an illness in Shanghai and spent several years ashore working on the Forbes’ houses and yachts, for which these paintings may have been commissioned.

The scenes show a large frigate off of Boston Harbor, hove-to getting ready to receive or discharge a pilot.  The frigate’s mainsails are braced aback while her other sails are drawing (except for the luffing jib), keeping the vessel stationary. It appears that Lane has depicted the same moment in both paintings, one with the bow approaching, the other astern. One can clearly see the pilot schooner’s “canoe”, used to ferry the pilot to and from the frigate, being hauled over the pilot schooner’s side in the stern view, barely visible in the bow view. The jaunty “wherry” with the small sail set in the bow view is not the pilot canoe but a device Lane inserted to further enliven the scene, along with the ubiquitous red shirt.

Interestingly, these paintings may have been commissioned to commemorate the Boston pilot schooner rather than the large frigate. The pilot schooner in both paintings flies the blue and white flag of the Boston pilots, and her hull has a shape and color scheme nearly identical to that of the schooner “Sylph” which was built as a yacht in 1834 and worked as a Boston pilot boat in 1836-37.  For part of her yachting career she was owned by Robert Bennett Forbes and Samuel Cabot. It seems plausible that R. B. Forbes commissioned these paintings of his old yacht, now a pilot schooner, which were later acquired or given to his brother John Murray Forbes and hence to Jonathan Smith.

They are a handsome pair, very confidently executed by Lane, who has depicted a fresh, blowy day with scudding clouds and an active sea. As always with Lane, the rigging and details of the frigate are beautifully and correctly noted, even to the point of one of the forward jib sheets flying free shown in both views. Based on the confident, economical paint handling, these paintings likely date from the late 1840’s or early 1850’s.

–Erik Ronnberg, Sam Holdsworth


1. Ralph M. Eastman, “Pilots and Pilot Boats of Boston Harbor” (Boston, MA: Second Bank –  State Street Trust Company, 1956), pp. 28, 29, 31.

2. Robert Bennett Forbes, “Personal Reminiscences) (3rd. ed., rev., Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1892), Appendix:  List of Vessels.       

Related Work in the Catalog

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Massachusetts
John N. Forbes
Jonathan Smith, before 1863
Ripley family
Clapp family
Evans family
Private collection

Exhibition History

No known exhibitions.

Published References

No known published references.

Related historical materials

Boston Locales, Businesses, & Buildings
Vessel Types
Flags, Lighthouses, & Navigation Aids
Citation: "Pilot Pendant: Approaching, n.d. (inv. 296)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=296 (accessed January 22, 2019).
Record last updated May 2, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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