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Catalog entry

inv. 8
Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor
View of Half Moon Beach in Stage Fort Park from Gloucester Harbor
Oil on canvas
16 x 24 in. (40.6 x 61 cm)
Frame: H. 30 x 55.9 in. (76.2 cm) 22
No inscription found
On view at the Cape Ann Museum


Stage Rocks and the western shore of Gloucester’s Outer Harbor (now Stage Fort Park) were only a quick walk west from town over the Blynman "Cut" (Canal) and, even in Lane’s day, were a quiet counterpoint to the constant activity of the inner harbor. The shoreline is dominated by huge granite outcroppings, their round tops worn smooth by the last glacier.

Lane did a detailed drawing of this shore in 1857 (Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 107)), probably from the end of Fort Point, though possibly from a boat just offshore (see map). According to the inscription on this drawing, it was made for Harriet Davis, whose descendants gave it to the Cape Ann Museum in 1932. Lane did at least one other painting we know of from the drawing: Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 348).

The area behind Stage Rocks is relatively flat and was the site of the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1623. Fourteen men of the Dorchester Company settled here (on what was then called Fishermen's Field) and tried to survive through a combination of fishing and farming. They were successful at neither.

In 1626, under the leadership of Roger Conant, they moved on and established a village to the south near an ancient Native American trading center. They called the village Naumkeag, but three years later, it was incorporated as the Town of Salem. 

Lane's painting of this important site shows a slightly narrower view than the drawing or the other painting. A lumber schooner and brig lie in the harbor, likely down from Maine on their way to Boston or further south. Gloucester Harbor was a popular stopover for vessels coming from Maine or Canada, whether to avoid weather or take on supplies, which is why the harbor was always full of a great variety of boats.

In a letter from Lane to Joseph Stevens, he wrote:

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.

The above excerpt likely refers to the sunset view painted for John S. Piper (Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 348)), but this work was done from the same drawing and deals with the same issue of “no foreground but water and vessels." Lane solved the problem by creating an intense pattern of wave shadow and reflection in the foreground, receding to flat water in the distance. The vessels are placed on a near diagonal facing each other, which compresses the view and focuses the eye on the granite domes on the shore and the white arc of Half Moon Beach between them. Lane has subtly alternated light and shadow on the hills and rocks in the distance, creating a rhythm corresponding with the outcroppings and recesses of the shoreline.

Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor is one of the rare paintings where Lane painted a bright midday light as opposed to the richer morning or evening light he preferred. The feeling of humidity and limpid stillness is accentuated by the tension of the nearly but not perfectly diagonal path of the vessels, which, if they were moving, would set them on a collision course. They feel heavy and torpid, locked in a perfect static tension. A strange green light pervades the scene, overlaid with pink tones on the horizon and rocks. There is an overall surreal quality to the moment—a compressed airlessness as though before a thunderstorm—that makes this work an unexpected masterpiece in Lane’s oeuvre.

– Sam Holdsworth

Related Work in the Catalog

Provenance (Information known to date; research ongoing.)

Harriet Phena (Mason) Davis, Gloucester, Mass., 1853
Catalina Davis
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., December 30, 1932

Exhibition History

DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts, Fitz Hugh Lane: The First Major Exhibition, March 20–April 17, 1966., no. 25.
Traveled to: Colby College Art Museum, Waterville, Maine, 30–6, 1966.
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington, District of Columbia, New Horizons: American Painting, 1840–1910, September 1, 1987–June 1, 1988.
Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, The Mysteries of Fitz Henry Lane, July 7–September 16, 2007., no. 3, ill. in color, p. 52.
Traveled to: Spanierman Gallery, New York, N.Y., 4–1, 2007.

Published References

The American Neptune, Pictorial Supplement VII: A Selection of Marine Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1804–1865. Salem, MA: The American Neptune, 1965., pl. VIII, no. 13, View of Half Moon Beach in Stage Fort Park from Gloucester Harbor. ⇒ 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. 25. ⇒ includes text
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Hugh Lane. New York: Praeger, 1971.
Hoffman, Katherine. "The Art of Fitz Hugh Lane." Essex Institute Historical Collections 119 (1983)., p. 34.
Wilmerding, John. Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1988., fig. 2, p. 20.
Moses, Michael A. "Mary B. Mellen and Fitz Hugh Lane." Antiques Magazine Vol. CXL, No. 5 (November 1991)., p. 833. ⇒ includes text
Worley, Sharon. "Mapping the Metaphysical Landscape off Cape Ann: The Reception of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalism Among the Gloucester Audience of Reverend Amory Dwight Mayo and Fitz Hugh Lane." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 29:2 (Summer 2001). View on www.westfield.ma.edu », Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor. ⇒ includes text
Kelly, Franklin. American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; in association with Lund Humphries, 2004., fig. 2, p. 92, text, p. 91.
American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2004., fig. 2, p. 92.
Worley, Sharon. "Fitz Hugh Lane and the Legacy of the Codfish Aristocracy." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 32, no. 1 (Winter 2004)., pp. 58, 65. ⇒ includes text
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. 73, text, pp. 71-72.
Wilmerding, John. "Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen." American Art Review 19, no. 4 (2007)., p. 170.
Wilmerding, John. Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 2007., no. 3, p. 52. ⇒ includes text
Citation: "Stage Rocks and the Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857 (inv. 8)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/catalog/entry.php?id=8 (accessed October 2, 2022).
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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