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Catalog entry

inv. 33
Gloucester Harbor
Oil on canvas
13 x 20 1/4 in. (33 x 51.4 cm)
Signed Signed lower right: F H Lane
On view at the Cape Ann Museum


This painting historically has been known as Gloucester Harbor; however, what follows is the explanation for its proposed new title of New York Harbor.

While sometimes suspected by some as a color sketch used by Lane for some of the vessels depicted in his major work  New York Harbor, c.1855 (inv. 46), this small painting’s provenance postdates it by half a decade. This gives new meaning to the work and Lane’s very different approach to the subject matter.

In place of the congestion of New York Harbor along the Manhattan shore, we see a quieter background in New York Bay, looking westward toward the New Jersey shore between Jersey City and Constables Point. Backing this argument is the red spar buoy, a channel buoy marking the east—or “returning”—side of the Hudson River. On a rising tide, the tidal current reverses the river’s flow, hence the upstream lean of the buoy.

Revisiting the scene from Lane’s prior painting is the large packet ship with the steam-propeller tugboat alongside—this time rigged-down and probably headed to a dock for outfitting and loading. Also familiar (in rig if not in detail) are the brig, half brig, and schooner in the background. In the foreground is a coasting sloop common to the region but smaller and less ornate than the Hudson River sloops. The tugboat and packet are probably headed to Atlantic Dock in Brooklyn (adjacent to Red Hook), where the packet will have its final outfitting and then be loaded with cargo for a voyage to Europe. Given the strength of the current, it is staying in midchannel until south of Governor’s Island, and will then turn northwest, up Buttermilk Channel, to its destination. This roundabout course would avoid the strong currents of the East River and its heavy shipping traffic.

With fewer vessels to deal with, Lane was free to depict the surroundings and light as it suited him. The afternoon sun, on the verge of breaking through the thinning cloud cover, casts its reflection on the water, vividly backlighting the sloop and the packet ship’s hull. The red spar buoy, also backlit, adds to an illusion of depth that is exceptional, even for Lane.

– Erik Ronnberg

Supplementary Images

Overall infrared image showing smaller vessels are painted over the background. Note the ruled horiz... [more]on line to the left of the main vessel. – Marcia Steele
Photo: J. Neubecker, Cleveland Museum of Art
© Cape Ann Museum
Infrared detail showing black underdrawing around the hull of the large vessel and the upper deck of... [more] the steam ship. – Marcia Steele
Photo: J. Neubecker, Cleveland Museum of Art
© Cape Ann Museum
This is one of the few paintings where underdrawing is seen in the sky for clouds. Lane did not foll... [more]ow the loose underdrawing closely in the painting. – Marcia Steele
Photo: J. Neubecker, Cleveland Museum of Art
© Cape Ann Museum

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Mass.
Reverend Robert P. Rogers (then by descent through his family)
Richard A. Bourne Company, Inc., Hyannis, Mass., 1973
Edwin Barbey, 1973
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., February 19, 1981

Exhibition History

No known exhibitions.

Published References

Craig, James. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006., fig. 107.

Related historical materials

New York City Locales, Businesses, & Buildings
Vessel Types
Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities
Citation: "Gloucester Harbor, 1859 (inv. 33)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=33 (accessed May 24, 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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