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Catalog entry

inv. 73
Brace's Rock
Brace's Cove; Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove
1864
Oil on canvas
10 1/4 x 15 1/4 in. (26 x 38.7 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: F.H. Lane 1864

The Braces Rock Series

The Brace’s Rock series of paintings is thought to comprise Lane’s last dated oils, painted in the fall and winter of 1863–64, not long before his death in August of 1865. Paintings of unusual peace and harmony, they present a fitting finale to Lane’s evolution as a painter. Each one is as much an ode to the bittersweet recollections of a late summer afternoon as it is a depiction of a familiar Gloucester landmark. Lane accomplished this without abandoning any of his fidelity to accurate depiction of place, season, and time of day.

Numerous writers have noted the symbolism of the decaying hull foundered on the rocks and the ebbing tide as markers of Lane's awareness of his own mortality. The paintings evoke an inescapable feeling of ennui in the preternatural calm of the sea, the limpid humidity of the still atmosphere, and the pink glow of the late afternoon sun off Brace's Rock. Knowing that these are Lane's last paintings, done in failing health in his studio throughout the course of his last winter, the viewer cannot escape the feeling that these paintings were a eulogy to his beloved Gloucester shoreline. Read on »

Commentary

This version of Brace’s Rock is an anomaly in the series. The other paintings are taken directly from the field sketch and are faithful to it—to the extent that any Gloucester resident would immediately recognize the scene. With this painting Lane has turned Brace’s Cove on its head, and while the rock, though reversed, is clearly recognizable, the other features—the sandy cove, the foreground bushes, and the reef at low tide—simply don’t exist on that side of Brace’s Rock. The coast to the south is sheer granite cliffs dropping straight into deep water. It is hard to imagine Lane with his infirmities and failing health getting anywhere near the vantage point necessary to make a drawing of Brace’s Rock from that angle. 

The rest of the scene simply does not exist and has been invented, lending the painting a surrealist feel. This is partially due to the juxtaposition of the incongruous landscape elements, but the perspective is also a bit skewed. The foreground cove with the abandoned vessel has a lower vanishing point than Brace’s Rock and the reef in front of it, which seem to hover over the still cove as if in a parallel universe. Adding to the surrealist vision is the rotting vessel on the beach, which looks as if a summer party stepped ashore for a picnic years ago and never returned.

While idealized or invented landscapes were common in nineteenth-century American art, for Lane they were very unusual. He had at least five commissions for Brace’s Rock paintings from his drawing, and presumably any patron who had commissioned a work would know the scene and expect a reasonably faithful representation. Infrared photography by the Cleveland Museum of the drawing on the canvas under the painting may have solved this mystery (see below).

The underdrawing shows mountains on the horizon identical to the Camden Hills in Maine, a subject Lane painted and drew numerous times. There are also major changes to the foreground cove and rocks, all well beyond Lane’s usual minor adjustments. On first seeing the underdrawing, Lane scholar John Wilmerding immediately connected the hills in the background with the Owl’s Head masterpiece of 1862, painted just two years before this work (see below). The foreground cove is also similar to those along the shore of the island from which Lane took the Owl’s Head view.

Is the mystery as simple as Lane having had a canvas of an identical size to the other Brace’s Cove paintings in his studio on which he had started and then abandoned an Owl’s Head painting? Did he then leave the beach, rocks, and foreground boat in place, paint out the mountains, and add the reef and Brace’s Rock, but facing the other way because the position of the beach and boats demanded it? That could also explain the oddly different worlds and perspective of the beach from the rock and reef beyond: they were painted at different times in different paintings.  

X-ray image showing detail of mountains in underdrawing.
X-ray image showing detail of mountains in underdrawing. Cleveland Museum of Art; Terra Foundation for American Art.

X-ray image with underdrawing of mountains and rocks highlighted.
X-ray image with underdrawing of mountains and rocks highlighted. Cleveland Museum of Art; Terra Foundation for American Art. 

Enhanced to show similar outline of mountains.
Camden Mountains from the South West, 1855 (inv. 170) enhanced to show similar outline of mountains. Cape Ann Museum.

This is an interesting subject for speculation, all the more so for its being so unusual in Lane’s work. After all, he made interesting variations on three of the other versions, and six identical copies of anything can be tedious, even for Lane. He may have taken a convenient shortcut. Whatever its genesis may have been, this is a strange and wonderfully realized painting. Lane clearly spent time and effort on it and considered it a finished work worthy of signing and dating.

– Sam Holdsworth

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Related Work in the Catalog

Supplementary Images

X-ray image showing underdrawing
Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art
© Terra Foundation of American Art
IR scan
Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art
© Terra Foundation for American Art
IR scan
Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art
© Terra Foundation for American Art
x-ray
Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art
© Terra Foundation for American Art
 

Explore catalog entries by keywords view all keywords »

Subject Types:   Coastal Scene »
Landscape Types:   Beach »   //   Rocky Shoreline »
Seasons / Weather:   Sunset »
Vessel Types:   Sloop »
Vessel Activites:   Wreck »
Cape Ann Locales:   Brace's Rock / Cove »

Historical Materials
Below is historical information related to the Lane work above. To see complete information on a subject on the Historical Materials page, click on the subject name (in bold and underlined).

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PDF
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publication
Report on scholars' gathering in association with the exhibition Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries
John Wilmerding, Karen Quinn, Marcia Steele et al.
November 15, 2007
Unpublished report
Cape Ann Museum, Spanierman Gallery

Report on Scholars' Gathering in Association with the Exhibition Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries, organized by Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, in partnership with Spanierman Gallery, and curated by Professor John Wilmerding.

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Brace’s Rock protrudes off the eastern shore of Eastern Point at the mouth of Brace’s Cove, a small and deceptively peaceful cove with a lovely crescent beach set in the otherwise rockbound coast of the eastern arm of Gloucester Harbor, about a mile north of the harbor entrance. Belying the serenity of Lane’s paintings, Brace’s Rock, the cove and the ledge forming its northern arm was one of the worst sailing hazards on the entire New England coast. This shore was the scene of countless shipwrecks and loss of life due to its appearance from the sea as a false entrance to Gloucester Harbor. Infamously known as False Point in the days of sail, lookouts on board ship peering through bad weather would see traces of Gloucester harbor and ships at anchor over the low lying land and Niles Pond that separate Brace's Cove from the harbor. They would guide the vessel around what they thought was the end of Eastern Point into the harbor. A reef of rocks jutting across the entrance to Brace Cove brought innumerable ships to grief in this manner. Nowhere on Cape Ann is the illusion of the wild ocean seemingly tamed by a sheltering bay more tragically real than Brace’s Cove seen on a still summer afternoon as Lane has painted it.

In Lane’s day Brace's Cove was still a wild and untouched area of Cape Ann, part of the privately owned Nile’s Farm, and was unvisited by tourists and unsuited for maritime interests. Lane did his drawings from the coast just north of the cove, not from the beach where most would assume he did the drawing. Brace's Rock looks identical from either vantage point.

photo (current)
Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove, Gloucester
Image: Photo © 2011 Winston Boyer
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photo (historical)
Brace's Rock, Eastern Point
From Gloucester Picturesque, published by Charles D. Brown.
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photo (historical)
Schooner wrecked off Brace's Rock
c. 1800
Photograph
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive
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Sloops are one-masted sailing vessels which, in American examples, set fore-and-aft sails but usually no square sails. Thus, staysails, or jibs, are set from the fore stay(s) and a quadrilateral mainsail is set from the mast and spread by a gaff and a boom. The larger sloops would often set a triangular topsail over the main sail. (1)

The sloops depicted by Lane were used in various coastal trades, each with its own requirements, which dictated the sizes and details of their hulls and rigs. Most elegant were the packet sloops, which transported passengers, mail, and higher value goods between specific ports on regular schedules. They usually measured between sixty and seventy-five feet on deck, as dictated by anticipated shipping volume. Finely finished, they usually had stern galleries—a row of windows across the transom with ornamental moldings—and varied color schemes. Examples of packet sloops are in Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck, 1844 (inv. 14) (center, middle ground) and Study of Ships, 1851 (inv. 141) (foreground), both of which probably made trips between Gloucester and Boston, or Gloucester and Newburyport. (2)

Another specialized sloop of similar size was the stone sloop, used to ship granite blocks from stone-loading piers around Cape Ann to other ports. They were similar in rig to packet sloops, but of heavier construction with greater hold capacity and absence of decoration. Their stout appearance was augmented by simple color schemes, or even tarred topsides, reflecting the wear and strain imposed by their heavy cargos. Lane depicted these vessels in his painting of Fresh Water Cove from Dolliver's Neck, Gloucester, Early 1850s (inv. 45), with a sloop (at left) preparing to load at wharf-side, and another (at right) sailing out with a cargo. (3)

Sloops of the more work-a-day sort are the most commonly seen examples in Lane’s paintings, most of them appearing in his views of Boston Harbor. Usually deep-loaded and looking weather-worn, they contrast sharply with the packet- and clipper ships which dominate the scene. Sloops of this type are rarely seen in Lane’s paintings of Gloucester Harbor and the Maine coast, although they were certainly needed for short-distance transportation (see Bear Island, Northeast Harbor, 1855 (inv. 24), View of Camden Mountains from Penobscot Bay, c.1852 (inv. 207), Sunrise on the Maine Coast, Mount Desert Island, 1856 (not published)). For coastal Maine, lack of railroads for heavier freight and greater distances between ports made the use of schooners with larger carrying capacity a greater necessity. (4)

In Lane’s views of New York Harbor, a regional sloop variant, the Hudson River Sloop, appears in New York Harbor, c.1855 (inv. 46) (bow view, left) and A Calm Sea, c.1860 (inv. 6) (stern view, right). This type had become prominent in the Hudson River packet trade between New York City, Albany, and beyond to points north and west as far as the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal.  Large vessels for their rigs, they were well-finished and well-kept, reflecting pride of ownership and rivalry among their owners and crews. (5)

– Erik Ronnberg

References:

1. A Naval Encyclopaedia (Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1884. Reprint: Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company, 1971), 59.  See first definition of "sloop" and definition of "sloop-rigged."

2. Robert Greenhalgh Albion, William A. Baker, and Benjamin Woods Labaree, New England and the Sea (Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1972; reprinted in 1994), 127–28.

3. Howard I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1935), 300–02.

4. Ibid., 300.

5. Ibid., 298–300.

illustration
Sloop
Engraving in R. H. Dana, The Seaman's Friend, 13th ed. (Thomas Groom & Co. Publisher, 1873)

A sloop has one mast, fore-and-aft rigged.

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publication
Bermudian sloop
1884
A Naval Encyclopaedia:
Dictionary of nautical words and phrases
Special Articles on Naval Art and Science
Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co.

'Mudian, "Mugian, or Bermudian. A boat special to the Bermuda islands, usually decked, with the exception of a hatch; from 2 to 20 tons burden; it is short, of good beam, and great draft of water abaft, the stem and keel forming a curved line. It carries an immense quantity of ballast. Besides a long main- and short jib-boom, it has a long, taperking, raking mast, stepped just over the forefoot, generally unsupported by shrouds or stays; on it a jib-headed mainsail is hoisted to a height of twice, and sometimes three times, the length of the keel. This sail is triangular, stretched at its foot by a long boom. The only other sail is a small foresail or jib. They claim to be the fastest craft in the world for working to windward in smooth water, it being recorded of one that she made five miles dead to windward in the hour during a race; and though they may be laid over until they fill with water, they will not capsize.

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artwork
Bermudian sloop in St. Georges Harbor, Bermuda
Edward James
c. 1864
St. George's Historical Society
Detail of painting of St. George's Harbour, Bermuda, during US Civil War, with a Confederate blockade runner anchored in the foreground.

Also filed under: Puerto Rico »

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object
Scale model of stone sloop "Albert Baldwin"
William Niemi
c.1940
Wood, metal, cordage, cloth, paint.
Scale: ¼ in. = 1ft. (1:48)
Cape Ann Museum. Gift of Roland and Martta Blanchet (1997.17.3)

Although built in 1890 and larger than the stone sloops of Lane’s time, the "Albert Baldwin’s" hull form, rig, and loading boom are very similar to those of the 1840s and 1850s.

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artwork
Silhouettes of vessel types
Charles G. Davis
Book illustrations from "Shipping and Craft in Silhouette" by Charles G. Davis, Salem, Mass. Marine Research Society, 1929. Selected images
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Exhibition History

1980 Vatican Museum: Vatican Museum, Collection of Modern Religious Art, Rome, A Mirror of Creation: 150 Years of American Nature Painting, no. 14, ill. in color.
1985 Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois, Masterworks in American Art from the Daniel J. Terra Collection.
1986–87 National Museum: National Museum, Stockholm, A New World: American Landscape Painting, 1893–1900.
1987 Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, pl. T-13, ill. in color, p. 122.
1988 National Gallery of Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, no. 22, ill. in color, p. 37, text, pp. 36, 39.
1990 Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, Collection Cameo.
1995 Terra Museum of American Art: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, Collection Cameo.
1995–96 Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, Attitudes Toward Nature.
2000 Musée d'Art Américain: Musée d'Art Américain, Giverny, Waves and Waterways: American Perspectives 1850–1900.
2001b Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, Selections from the Permanent Collection: Two Centuries of American Art.
2002 Tate Britain: Tate Modern, London, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880.
2003 New Britain Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, New Britain, Connecticut, Copley to Cassatt: Masterworks from the Terra Collection.
2003b Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, American Classics from the Collection.
2004 Terra Museum: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, A Narrative of American Art.
2005–07 Art Institute of Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, Expanded Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection.
2007 Cape Ann Museum: Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, The Mysteries of Fitz Henry Lane, no. 50, ill., p. 103.

Published References

Baur 1980: A Mirror of Creation: 150 Years of American Nature Painting, no. 14, ill. in color.
Wilmerding 1980a: American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875, ills., fig. 7, p. 22 and pl. 11, p. 62, as Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove.
Novak 1980b: Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875, no. 10, ill. in color.
Novak 1982: "Une Amerique Tranquille," ill. in color.
Gustafson 1983: "Museum Accessions," ill. in b/w, p. 974.
Hemphill 1984: "Daniel Terra and His Collection."
Sokol 1984: "The Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, Illinois," ill. in color, p. 1159.
Neff, ed. 1987: A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, pl. T-13, ill. in color, p. 122.
Wilmerding 1988a: Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, no. 22, ill. in color, text, pp. 36, 39.
Atkinson 1990: Winslow Homer in Gloucester, ill. in b/w, fig. 40, p. 58, text, pp. 11, 58.
Goodard 1990: American Painting, ill. in color, p. 70.
Terra Museum 1990: Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove, Fitz Hugh Lane. Collection Cameo sheet, ill. in b/w.
Vallino and Oraezie 1993: Alle redici dell'etica ambientale: pensiero sulla natura, vilderness e creativita artistica negli Stati Uniti del XIX secolo, p. 241.
Novak 1995: Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875, no. 10, ill. in color as insert, as Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove.
Yaegar 1996: The Hudson River School: American Landscape Artist, ills. in color, p. 51 (detail), p. 53, back cover, text, p. 50.
Cartwright 2000a: Waves and Waterways: American Perspectives, 1850–1900, ill. in color, p. 32, text, p. 27.
Cartwright 2000b: Rivieres et rivages: les artistes américains, 1850–1900 (text in French), ill. in color, p. 32, text, p. 27, as Brace's Rock.
Kennedy 2002: "The Terra Museum of American Art," text pp. 131–32.
Wilton and Barringer 2002: American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820–1880, cat 73, ill. in color, p. 202, text, pp. 202, 254, 270.
Bourguignon and Kennedy 2002a: An American Point of View: The Daniel J. Terra Collection, ills. in color, pp. 8, 63, ill. in b/w, p. 200, text, pp. 62, 200.
Bourguignon and Kennedy 2002b: Un regard transatlantique. La collection d'art américain de Daniel J. Terra (text in French), ills. in color, pp. 8, 63, ill. in b/w, p. 200, text, pp. 62, 200.
Slawek 2003: Revelations of Gloucester: Charles Olson, Fitz Hugh Lane, and Writing of the Place, Il. 9.
Wilmerding 2007: "Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen," pp. 171, 176.
Wilmerding 2007a: Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries, no. 50, ills., in color, fig. 36, p. 39 and p. 103, text, pp. 24, 37, 42. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding 2007b: Report on scholars' gathering in association with the exhibition Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries. ⇒ includes text
Tedeschi 2008: Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, ill. in color, fig, 2, p. 37, text p. 37.
Neset 2009: Arcadian Waters and Wanton Seas: Iconology of Waterscapes in Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Culture, ill. in b/w, p. 182, text, p. 183.
Newton 2010: "Fitz Henry Lane's Series Paintings of "Brace's Rock": Meaning and Technique," as Brace's Rock. ⇒ includes text
Citation: "Brace's Rock, 1864 (inv. 73)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=73 (accessed April 23, 2017).
Record last updated February 7, 2017. Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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