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

Catalog entry

inv. 88
Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance
Boston Harbor
c.1846–47
Oil on canvas
17 x 27 in. (43.2 x 68.6 cm)
Signed and inscribed verso (on strainer): FH Lane 16 Tremont Temple

Commentary

Lane’s lithographs, depicting the Boston skyline as background, date back to the mid-1830s (See View in Boston Harbour, c.1836 (inv. 479), Capt. E. G. Austin's Quick Step, "A Yankee Ship and a Yankee Crew", 1837 (inv. 480), and View in Boston Harbour, c.1837 (inv. 605)). Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance, painted a decade later, is one of his early views on canvas of that port wherein the skyline plays an integral role, combining atmosphere with the setting sun instead of merely providing static background for a vessel portrait. In this painting, that role is subtle, as the skyline is softened while it blends with mist and clouds at sunset. Contrasts in chroma and value, from foreground to background, coupled with less crowded vessel activity,  lend both depth and serenity that make this painting stand apart from Lane’s later Boston Harbor views.

As in many later paintings, Lane depicted Boston as viewed from Governor’s Island, looking west, eight degrees north, to the State House, which is nearly at dead center in the skyline. While the mist-shrouded skyline adds to the serenity of the view, many prominent buildings that might indicate its extent to north and south are too shrouded to identify. This situation is not helped by infrared scans, which indicate that the skyline was not drawn in pencil first, but painted in free-hand, with only a pencil line to indicate sea level at the waterfront.

As with most of Lane’s later harbor scenes, none of the vessels can be identified by name or owner. This view is also unusual for its foreground, dominated by smaller vessel types, while the large merchant ships are relegated to the background. This raises questions regarding Lane’s prospective clientele for this work, and/or his personal reasons for painting it.

The gundalow is of particular interest, being the humblest example of shipbuilding in this view, yet being nearest in the foreground and being a focal point that catches the eye and directs a counterclockwise line of interest around the painting. Human activity is particularly well drawn and purposeful. Infrared scans of the gundalow reveal careful redrawing of the helmsman and one of the oarsmen, suggesting a response to criticism.

Types of depicted vessels are as follows:   

  1. Merchant ships. The false, painted gunports were then fashionable for ships in the trans-Atlantic packet trades.
  2. Merchant brig at anchor, her sails “hanging in the gear” to dry. She is probably off-loading some cargo to the packet sloop alongside for distribution to small coastal communities.
  3. A topsail schooner, deep-loaded, leaving port for a more distant coastal destination. The square topsails gave the vessel easier motion when sailing offshore in heavy seas.
  4. Packet sloop. The stern gallery with “lights” (windows) was common to packets carrying passengers as well as freight.
  5. Gundalow, in this case a regional variant called a Piscataqua River gundalow, after its place of origin, one of New Hampshire’s most important rivers. A vessel type usually confined to river and short-distance coastal trade.
  6. New England boat, in this case a two-masted open boat used mainly for coastal fishing. The type had many regional variants.
  7. Yawl boat, a ship’s boat carried on the sterns of merchant schooners, also by fishing schooners in the hand-line fisheries.
  8. Side-wheel steamship used in the coastal passenger trade. This example is very similar in profile to the steamer “Yacht” which was the first steam vessel to carry passengers and freight between Boston and Gloucester. See View of Gloucester, (From Rocky Neck), 1846 (inv. 92).
  9. A small schooner yacht, evidenced by the absence of a blue over white flag at her mast head, which would indicate a pilot schooner. Small fast schooners of this size were built as yachts or pilot schooners, and subsequently sold and converted to their alternative uses.

– Erik Ronnberg

Supplementary Images

Infrared image (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Infrared image (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance (under ultra violet light)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance (with raking light to show surface details an... [more]d texture)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance (using x-radiography)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance (using specular reflected light)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Infrared image
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art
Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance (detail)
Photo: Marcia Steele
© Cleveland Museum of Art

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

the Artist, Gloucester, Mass.
Dr. James H. Armsby, Albany, N.Y., 1847
Joanna Perry Armsby March, sister of J.H. Armsby, Albany, N.Y.
Joanna Armsby March Boyd, Albany, N.Y., by 1864 (by descent from mother)
Alden March Boyd, Santa Barbara, Calif. (by descent from mother)
Joanna March Boyd Bard, Santa Barbara, Calif. (by descent from father)
Henry Travers, Newton, Jr., Joanna Newton Riccardi, and Georgia Newton Pulos (by descent from grandmother)
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, 2004

Exhibition History

Albany Gallery of Fine Arts, Albany, New York, Second Exhibition, 1847., no. 136.
Palmer's Studio, Albany, New York, Painting and Sculpture Exhibited at Palmer's Studio in Aid of the United States Sanitary Commission, February 22, 1864., no. 2, as Boston Harbor.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Collects, Part One: European and American Art, January 26–March 24, 1985., as Boston Harbor.

Published References

Albany Gallery of Fine Arts. Catalogue of the Second Exhibition. Albany, NY: C. Van Benthuysen and Co., 1847., p. 11.
Palmer's Studio. Catalogue of Painting and Sculpture Exhibited at Palmer's Studio, in Aid of the United States Sanitary Commission. Albany, NY: Van Benthuysen's Steam Printing House, 1864., as Boston Harbor.
Santa Barbara Collects: A Community Exhibition Celebrating the Reopening of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1985., ill. p. 32, text, p. 30, as Boston Harbor.
Annual Report 2004. Cleveland, OH: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2005., ills. pp. 9, 14, text pp. 16, 22, as Boston Harbor.
Litt, Steven. "Painting's Glow Now Warms Museum." Plain Dealer, July 21, 2004., ill., as Boston Harbor.
Adams, Henry. What's American About American Art? A Gallery Tour in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2008., ill. p. 59, text, pp. 13, 58.
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., ill., p. 194, text, pp. 200–03, as Boston Harbor. ⇒ 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 Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance. ⇒ includes text
Citation: "Harbor of Boston, with the City in the Distance, c.1846–47 (inv. 88)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=88 (accessed October 18, 2017).
Record last updated May 19, 2016. 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.