loading loading
Search this catalogue
 [?]
 [?]
 [?]
 [?]

Catalog entry

inv. 48
Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor at Sunset
c. 1850
Oil on canvas
26 x 42 in. (66 x 106.7 cm)
No inscription found

Commentary

Boston Harbor was a regular subject for Lane from at least 1847 through the late 1850s. It was an obvious subject for the marine painter who had lived and worked in various lithography studios overlooking the harbor and whose first Boston patrons were all involved in the maritime trades. The range of Lane’s Boston Harbor works over the years is fascinating. (See Earl A. Powell’s essay “The Boston Harbor Pictures” and, for example, Boston Harbor, 1856 (inv. 203) and Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance, c.1846–47 (inv. 88).) The influence of Robert Salmon is particularly strong in the early works, which are typically crowded scenes of intense activity, with the wind, clouds, and waves creating repeating patterns of movement that show the energy and ambition of the great port at its peak.

This painting, owned by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA), and its companion Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850–55 (inv. 242) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) must be treated together as they are fully developed variants on the same composition. They create a very different impression than Lane’s earlier Boston Harbor works. Here the subject is the hanging moment between day and night, between wind and calm, light and shadow, sails set and furled, boats entering and leaving, the enormity of the vessels and the smallness of man. Lane is in full mastery of his medium. In conception and execution these paintings go well beyond his previous harbor scenes. He has transformed a typical genre subject of vessels in a crowded harbor into poems of stillness, silence, and light, all hung on the geometric armature of the magnificent vessels and their alignment to the sun setting over the still harbor. Lane has taken the view as if one is low on the water in a small boat just behind the two men rowing into the path of the sunset, emphasizing the sheer mass of the great hulls and soaring height of sails and spars looming over them. The ships have seemingly transformed into enormous sentient beings of a mute order as they align themselves along a processional corridor, parting to let the rays of the setting sun reflect off the water and fill the viewer’s field of vision.

 

Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850–55 (inv. 242)

Oil on canvas, 24 x 39 1/4 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr.,
in honor of the museum's 25th anniversary (AC1993.229.1)


The two paintings need to be seen together to appreciate the extent of Lane’s mastery of the subtle variations of sunset color and reflection in the two works, one keyed in shades of blue and yellow, the other in pinks, oranges, and browns. Also compare the organization of the great full-rigged merchant and packet ships that dominate the composition. In the MFA painting the ship on the right is facing the sunset, and the brig on the left with all sails set is facing the viewer. In the LACMA painting the order has been reversed, though they are different ships. Note also the ship on the right has all sails set, and the ship’s sails on the left are partially furled, another reversal of the MFA painting. In both paintings there are a surprising number of vessels (more in the MFA picture), yet both paintings feel spacious and almost empty in the reverential calm and order they evoke.

Both paintings can be dated sometime after 1853 as that was the year the steeple of the First Baptist Church was completed, shown just to the right of the State House dome on the horizon. The paintings were probably not done as companions for a single buyer as they are of a slightly different size. However, it’s hard to imagine Lane didn’t have both in his studio at the same time as he fully engaged in the variations on his theme. This author’s guess is he did the MFA painting first with its greater number of vessels, particularly those in the foreground. Following the reductive theme we see over Lane’s whole career, he then reduced the vessel numbers, simplified the foreground, and emphasized the direction of the composition by having the rowers align to the sunset. Note the vessel on the very far left in the MFA picture is angled away from the sunset; in the LACMA picture it is now pointed towards the sunset. Also note how Lane has tilted the lower yard arm of the far left vessel in the LACMA picture, creating a tension not present in the strict horizontals of the yard arms in the MFA work. The flawless palette shift to a dominant blue and yellow in the LACMA painting from the pinks and oranges of the MFA work is a further example of Lane’s full engagement and mastery of his medium. He is never content to copy but is always pushing the boundary of what he could do with a scene, here with extraordinary effect.  

– Sam Holdsworth

 

  1. Packet ship (2)
  2. Brig (2)
  3. Bark with harbor tug
  4. Half-brig (hermaphrodite brig)
  5. Schooner (2)
  6. Small coasting schooner with cargo of hay
  7. Sloop
  8. Yawl boat with sailing rig
  9. Coastal packet steamer

– Erik Ronnberg

 

 

Related Work in the Catalog

Supplementary Images

Microscope image (detail of State House)
Photo: Sandra Kelberlau
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Microscope image (detail of man rowing)
Photo: Sandra Kelberlau
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston Harbor (detail)
Photo: Sandra Kelberlau
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston Harbor (detail under transmitted light)
Photo: Sandra Kelberlau
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston Harbor (detail of pin pricks under transmitted light)
Photo: Sandra Kelberlau
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

Amanda Hill (Mrs. Charles M.) Pierce, New Bedford, Mass., c. 1850–1922 [probable]
Annie Pierce (Mrs. Willis E.) Lougee, New Bedford, Mass. (by descent)
Grace Howland (Mrs. Moses M.) Sargeant, New Bedford, Mass. (by descent)
Anne Sargeant (Mrs. Thomas W.) Farnsworth, Jr., New Bedford, Mass., c. 1960 (by descent)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1966

Exhibition History

Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna, Valle Giulai, Rome, Italy, 200 anni di pittura americana (1776–1976), October 1–26, 1976., lent by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875, February 10–June 15, 1980.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and American Federation of Arts, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa, The Boston Tradition, November 25–January 7, 1980., lent by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Traveled to: Whitney Museum of Fine Arts, New York, April 21–June 14, 1981; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, Tex., February 6, 1981; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pa., June 26–August 16, 1981.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, May 15–September 5, 1988., no. 24, ill. in color, 51, as Boston Harbor.
Traveled to: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass., October 5–December 31, 1988.

Published References

Wilmerding, John. A History of American Marine Painting. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum; in association with Little, Brown and Co., 1968.
American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1969.
100 Paintings from the Boston Museum. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1970.
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane. New York: Praeger, 1971.
Wilmerding, John. Robert Salmon: Painter of Ship & Shore. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum, 1971.
Gustafson, Eleanor H. "Museum Accessions." Antiques Magazine (August 1978).
Troyen, Carol. The Boston Tradition: American Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1980.
Wilmerding, John, ed. American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1980., fig. 239, p. 42, text, pp. 111, 221.
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Hoffman, Katherine. "The Art of Fitz Hugh Lane." Essex Institute Historical Collections 119 (1983)., p. 32.
Novak, Barbara. "The Meteorological Vision in American Landscape Painting." Orion Nature Quarterly 3, no. 1 (Winter 1984). 1984.
Fazio, Beverly. Masterpiece Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986.
Wilmerding, John. Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1988., ill. in color p. 51, ill. in b/w p. 100 cat. 24, as Boston Harbor at Sunset.
Training the Eye and the Hand: Fitz Hugh Lane and 19th Century Drawing Books. Gloucester, MA: Cape Ann Historical Association, 1993., p. 26-27; p. 33, fig. 26, as Boston Harbor at Sunset.
Davis, Elliot Bostwick. "American Drawing Books and Their Impact on Fitz Hugh Lane." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 105, part 1 (1995)., fig. 9, p. 97, text, p. 96. ⇒ includes text
Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995., no. 150, ill. in color as insert, as Boston Harbor at Sunset.
Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Troyen, Carol, Charlotte Emans Moore, and Priscilla Kate Diamond. American Painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1997.
Bjelajac, David. American Art: A Cultural History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
American Painting. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2003.
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. 76, as Boston Harbor at Sunset.
Craig, James. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006., pl. 8, as Boston Harbor at Sunset.
Scheller, W.G. America A History in Art: American Journey Told by Painters, Sculptors, Photographers, and Architects. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2008.
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. 3, p. 201, text, p. 198, as Boston Harbor at Sunset. ⇒ includes text
H. Travers Newton, Jr. "Fitz Henry Lane's Series Paintings of 'Brace's Rock': Meaning and Technique." Terra Foundation for American Art. Unpublished report., as Boston Harbor. ⇒ includes text
Citation: "Boston Harbor, c. 1850 (inv. 48)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=48 (accessed October 21, 2018).
Record last updated March 14, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
Please share your knowledge with us: click here to leave feedback.