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Catalog entry

inv. 348
Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor
Stage Fort Rocks; Stage Fort Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor; View of Gloucester Shoreline
Oil on canvas
24 1/2 x 39 1/8 in. (62.2 x 99.4 cm)
No inscription found


Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor is remarkable in several ways. It is in pristine condition and may be as close as any known Lane to showing what the original color and surface were when coming off Lane’s easel. This may also be the painting described by Lane in a letter to Joseph Stevens, one of only several examples we have of Lane discussing his work:

I yesterday made a sketch of Stage Fort and the surrounding scenery from the water. Piper has given me an order for a picture from this point of view to be treated as a sunset. I shall try to make something out of it but it will take some management as there is no foreground but water and vessels. 

Lane clearly “managed” the composition of water and vessels masterfully and also created a remarkable study of the effects of light and reflection in transition across a broad spectrum of surfaces. The painting, now in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. was owned for many years by American art scholar John Wilmerding. The following is his description of the painting excerpted from an essay written in 1967.

The design is carefully structured on the zig-zag line that visually connects the four boats; in pairs their axes are at complementary right angles to each other. In echo the projecting rock masses along the shore behind seem to alternate rhythmically with small, recessed coves. Although most of the surface of the painting is divided into several horizontal zones and punctuated by the vertical interruptions of the ship’s masts, there is a total feeling of swelling and contracting lines of movement as the eye reads laterally across the composition. This is most clear in the rise and fall of the clouds, the outlines of the rocks at shore’s edge, the reverse curves of their reflection in the water, and the placement of the four hulls across the canvas. Yet interest is always directed towards the center, and the overall coherence maintained, by devises [sic] like the oar and arms of the sculling figure in the lower right pointing inward, by cutting off the view down the shoreline at the left with the broadside of the three-master, and by placing the largest elements such as the brightened cloud and tall-masted schooner in the central area itself. Still, cogency of design was not Lane’s only achievement; his understanding and mastery of the uses of color to bring out the effects of light contribute to the enlivenment of the whole painting. His breakdown of shadows into their color components and his application of small touches of pure paint to allow optical mixing of colors are in remarkable, because independent, anticipation of many Impressionist methods developed in the next decades in France. There is a wide range of differentiation in textures throughout the picture, from the clear glazes in the sky and clouds to the softer effects of rocks, trees, or wooden hulls, to the partially rippled, partially calm water surface and it’s [sic] changing reflections. Analysis of the reds and blues alone in this work would reveal the rich but understated variety of Lane’s coloristic touch. There is a remarkable range of reds, for example, in the bright-shirted figures in the boats in each foreground corner and their subtle counterparts reflected beneath, through the more diluted gradations in the clouds, hilltops, and rock reflections, to the lighter oranges at the right or the deeper purple grays at the left. A similar range of values exists in the transitions of blue through the sky and water, where greens emerge, and through the rocks or shadows, where grays and browns are mixed in. Though Lane’s handling is tight and restrained, his full variety and sureness of touch give his work a sparkling freshness seldom seen in his contemporaries. He has achieved an unusual combination of accurate recording and a more lasting aesthetic interest.

– John Wilmerding, reprinted from Essex Institute Historical Collections, January 1967.

Related Work in the Catalog

Additional material

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Mass.
John J. Piper, Gloucester, Mass., 1857
Child's Gallery, Boston
John Wilmerding, 1960
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Exhibition History

DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts, Fitz Hugh Lane: The First Major Exhibition, March 20–April 17, 1966., no. 26.
Traveled to: Colby College Art Museum, Waterville, Maine, April 30–June 6, 1966.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 19th-Century America: Paintings and Sculpture, April 16–September 7, 1970., no. 98, ill.
Gloucester 350th Anniversary Celebration, Inc., Cape Ann Historical Association, Gloucester, Massachusetts, Portrait of a Place: Some American Landscape Painters in Gloucester, July 25–September 5, 1973., Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection, May 9–October 10, 2004., no. 21, ill.

Published References

Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865: American Marine Painter. Salem, MA: The Essex Institute, 1964., no. 98, p. 62, View of Gloucester Shoreline.
The American Neptune, Pictorial Supplement VII: A Selection of Marine Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865. Salem, MA: The American Neptune, 1965., plate XVII, no. 98. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane: The First Major Exhibition. Lincoln, MA: De Cordova Museum; in association with Colby College Art Museum, 1966., no. 26, ill. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane. New York: Praeger, 1971., pl. 8, pp. 71–72.
O'Gorman, James F., and John Wilmerding. Portraits of a Place: Some American Lanscape Painters in Gloucester. Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Historical Association, 1973., ill., pp. 21–22; not in exhibition.
Wilmerding, John, ed. The Genius of American Painting. New York: Morrow, 1973., no. 8, ill., text, pp. 21–23.
American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2004., ill., p. 91.
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., pl. viii, text, pp. 71-72, Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor.
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2007., fig. 17, p. 30. ⇒ includes text
Newton, Travers, and Marcia Steele. "The Series Paintings of Fitz Henry Lane: From Field Sketch to Studio Painting." In Emil Bosshard, Paintings Conservator (1945–2006): Essays by Friends and Colleagues, edited by Maria de Peverelli, Mario Grassi, and Hans-Christoph von Imhoff. Florence: Centro Di, 2009, pp. 194–215., fig. 11, p. 210. ⇒ includes text
Citation: "Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 348)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=348 (accessed March 28, 2020).
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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