Search this catalogue
print this page

Catalog entry

inv. 349
Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester
Brace's Rock
c. 1863–64
Oil on canvas
14 1/2 x 20 in. (36.8 x 50.8 cm)
No inscription found

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 »


This painting is very similar to the Cape Ann Museum's Brace's Rock, 1864 (inv. 37), though it is somewhat larger at 14 1/2 x 20 in. The composition is identical except for the slightly lowered horizon line and the shipwreck, which in this version is heading towards shore with more of its hull exposed, but without a visible deckhouse. 

The foreground shows a similar mix and positioning of foliage and rock, but here Lane has expanded the foreground vertically, made the boulders more prominent, brightened the red and yellow leaves and connected the bushes on the lower right to the reef of boulders leading to the shipwreck.

The colors are equally jewellike and the atmosphere and time of day are identical to the other paintings. Many nineteenth-century painters did copies of their work, often quite exact. It is interesting to note that Lane, even in his last days, was not content to copy but varied the elements just enough to keep his interest and to improve on each version.

– Sam Holdsworth

[+] See More

Related Work in the Catalog

Supplementary Images

Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art
© National Gallery of Art
X-ray image of back of frame
Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art
© National Gallery of Art

Explore catalog entries by keywords view all keywords »

Subject Types:   Coastal Scene »
Landscape Types:   Beach »   //   Rocky Shoreline »
Seasons / Weather:   Autumn »   //   Sunset »
Vessel Types:   Schooner »
Cape Ann Locales:   Brace's Rock / Cove »   //   Eastern Point & Lighthouse »

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).

[ top]

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

Also filed under: Site Photographs »

photo (historical)
Brace's Rock, Eastern Point
From Gloucester Picturesque, published by Charles D. Brown.
photo (historical)
Schooner wrecked off Brace's Rock
c. 1800
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive
[ top]

Schooners in Lane’s time were, with few exceptions, two-masted vessels carrying a fore-and-aft rig having one or two jibs, a fore staysail, gaff-rigged fore- and main sails, and often fore- and main topsails. One variant was the topsail schooner, which set a square topsail on the fore topmast. The hulls of both types were basically similar, their rigs having been chosen for sailing close to the wind. This was an advantage in the coastal trade, where entering confined ports required sailing into the wind and frequent tacking. The square topsail proved useful on longer coastwise voyages, the topsail providing a steadier motion in offshore swells, reducing wear and tear on canvas from the slatting of the fore-and-aft sails. (1)

Schooners of the types portrayed by Lane varied in size from 70 to 100 feet on deck. Their weight was never determined, and the term “tonnage” was a figure derived from a formula which assigned an approximation of hull volume for purposes of imposing duties (port taxes) on cargoes and other official levies. (2)

Crews of smaller schooners numbered three or four men. Larger schooners might carry four to six if a lengthy voyage was planned. The relative simplicity of the rig made sail handling much easier than on a square-rigged vessel. Schooner captains often owned shares in their vessels, but most schooners were majority-owned by land-based firms or by individuals who had the time and business connections to manage the tasks of acquiring and distributing the goods to be carried. (3)

Many schooners were informally “classified” by the nature of their work or the cargoes they carried, the terminology coined by their owners, agents, and crews—even sometimes by casual bystanders. In Lane’s lifetime, the following terms were commonly used for the schooner types he portrayed:

Coasting schooners: This is the most general term, applied to any merchant schooner carrying cargo from one coastal port to another along the United States coast (see Bar Island and Mt. Desert Mountains from Somes Settlement, 1850 (inv. 401), right foreground). (4)

Packet schooners: Like packet sloops, these vessels carried passengers and various higher-value goods to and from specific ports on regular schedules. They were generally better-maintained and finished than schooners carrying bulk cargoes (see The Old Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 30), center; and Gloucester Inner Harbor, 1850 (inv. 240), stern view). (5)

Lumber schooners: Built for the most common specialized trade of Lane’s time, they were fitted with bow ports for loading lumber in their holds (see View of Southwest Harbor, Maine: Entrance to Somes Sound, 1852 (inv. 260)) and carried large deck loads as well (Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 8), right). Lumber schooners intended for long coastal trips were often rigged with square topsails on their fore masts (see Becalmed Off Halfway Rock, 1860 (inv. 344), left; Maverick House, 1835 (not published); and Lumber Schooner in a Gale, 1863 (inv. 552)). (6)

Schooners in other specialized trades. Some coasting schooners built for carrying varied cargoes would be used for, or converted to, special trades. This was true in the stone trade where stone schooners (like stone sloops) would be adapted for carrying stone from quarries to a coastal destination. A Lane depiction of a stone schooner is yet to be found. Marsh hay was a priority cargo for gundalows operating around salt marshes, and it is likely that some coasting schooners made a specialty of transporting this necessity for horses to urban ports which relied heavily on horses for transportation needs. Lane depicted at least two examples of hay schooners (see Gloucester Harbor, 1850s (inv. 391), left; and Coasting Schooner off Boon Island, c.1850 (inv. 564)), their decks neatly piled high with bales of hay, well secured with rope and tarpaulins.

– Erik Ronnberg


1. Howard I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1935), 258. While three-masted schooners were in use in Lane’s time, none have appeared in his surviving work; and Charles S. Morgan, “New England Coasting Schooners”, The American Neptune 23, no. 1 (DATE): 5–9, from an article which deals mostly with later and larger schooner types.

2. John Lyman, “Register Tonnage and its Measurement”, The American Neptune V, nos. 3–4 (DATE). American tonnage laws in force in Lane’s lifetime are discussed in no. 3, pp. 226–27 and no. 4, p. 322.

3. Ship Registers of the District of Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1789–1875 (Salem, MA: The Essex Institute, 1944). Vessels whose shipping or fishing voyages included visits to foreign ports were required to register with the Federal Customs agent at their home port. While the vessel’s trade or work was unrecorded, their owners and master were listed, in addition to registry dimensions and place where built. Records kept by the National Archives can be consulted for information on specific voyages and ports visited.

4. Howard I. Chapelle, The National Watercraft Collection (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1960), 40, 42–43.

5. Ibid., 42–43, 73.

6. Ibid., 74–76.

photo (historical)
Coasting schooner "Polly"
Lumber schooner in Gloucester Harbor

Also filed under: Lumber Industry »

Topsail Schooner
In R. H. Dana, The Seaman's Friend, 13th ed. (Thomas Groom & Co. Publisher, 1873)

A topsail schooner has no tops at her foremast, and is fore-and-aft rigged at her mainmast. She differs from an hermaphrodite brig in that she is not properly square-rigged at her foremast, having no top, and carrying a fore-and-aft foresail instead of a square foresail and a spencer.

1892 Gloucester Harbor Diorama (detail of marine railway)
Lawrence Jensen, Erik. A.R. Ronnberg, Jr.
Detail views: marine railway and hauling cradle for vessel
Wood rails, metal rollers, chain; wood cradle. Scale: ½" = 1' (1:24)
Original diorama components made, 1892; replacements made, 1993.
Cape Ann Museum, from Gloucester Chamber of Commerce, 1925 (2014.071)

A schooner is shown hauled out on a cradle which travels over racks of rollers on a wood and metal track.

photo (historical)
Lobsterman and dory at Lane's Cove
Photographer unknown
c. 1900
Glass plate negative
Collection of Erik Ronnberg

Also filed under: Lobstering »

view ]
Maine Register for 1855 (Lumber)
George Adams, publisher
"The Maine Register for the Year 1855, embracing State and County Officers, and an abstract of the law and resolves; together with a complete business directory of the state, and a variety of useful information."

Details about Maine's lumber trade in 1855, see pp. 250–52

Also filed under: Castine »   //  Lumber Industry »

View of the Old Fort and Harbor 1837
Fitz Henry Lane, attr.
In John J. Babson, History of the Town Gloucester (Gloucester, MA: Procter Brothers, 1860)
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, Mass.

See p. 474.


Exhibition History

1957 Museum of Fine Arts: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, American Painting, 1815–1865: One Hundred and Fifty Paintings from the M. and M. Karolik Collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, no. 113.
1976 Museum of Modern Art: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, The Natural Paradise: Painting in America 1800–1950, ill., frontispiece.
2004 National Gallery of Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia, American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection, no. 22.
2007 Cape Ann Museum: Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, The Mysteries of Fitz Henry Lane, no. 49, ill., p. 102.

Published References

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1949: M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815 to 1865, no. 184, ill., pp. 412–13.
McLanathan 1956: Fitz Hugh Lane (Museum of Fine Arts Picture Book Number Eight), p. 10. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding 1964: Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865: American Marine Painter, no. 113, p. 64.
American Neptune 1965: The American Neptune, Pictorial Supplement VII: A Selection of Marine Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865, plate XXVIII, no. 113, Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester. ⇒ includes text
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1969: American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, no. 717, p. 186.
Novak 1971: "Grand Opera and the Small Still Voice," ill.
Wilmerding 1971a: Fitz Hugh Lane, pl. 10, pp. 87–88.
Wilmerding 1980a: American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875, fig. 117, pp. 111–13, text, p. 46, Brace's Rock, not shown in the exhibition.
Novak 1980b: Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875, fig. 20, pp. 30–31.
Novak 1995: Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875, no. 20, p.32, Brace's Rock.
Kelly 2004: American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection, pp. 91, 94.
National Gallery of Art 2004: American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection, no. 22, p. 93.
Wilmerding 2005: Fitz Henry Lane, pl. x, Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester.
Novak 2007: American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience, with a New Preface, ill., pp. 115–17.
Wilmerding 2007: "Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen," pp. 171, 176, Brace's Rock.
Wilmerding 2007a: Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries, no. 49, fig. 30, p. 102, text, p. 36. ⇒ includes text
Newton 2010: "Fitz Henry Lane's Series Paintings of "Brace's Rock": Meaning and Technique," Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester. ⇒ includes text
Slifkin 2013: "Fitz Henry Lane and the Compromised Landscape, 1848–1865," fig. 6, p. 75, text, p. 74. ⇒ includes text

Related historical materials

Cape Ann Locales
Vessel Types
Citation: "Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester, c. 1863–64 (inv. 349)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed July 23, 2024).
Record last updated May 5, 2022. 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.