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New Discoveries: Lane Pendants Descended in New England Family


A pair of Lane marine paintings with a fascinating provenance has surfaced through an old New England family with maritime ties to the brothers Robert B. and John M. Forbes. The paintings (Pilot Pendant: Approaching (inv. 296) and Pilot Pendant: Departing (inv. 297)) are clearly pendants, a pair intended to be displayed together. They are quite small, 17” by 14”, and were likely inset into wall paneling, perhaps on either side of a fireplace.

The paintings have been in the same family since around 1860. According to the family, they were given to their relative Jonathan Smith by John M. Forbes sometime prior to Smith’s death in 1863. Smith was a ship’s captain, possibly for R.B. Forbes in the China trade. He contacted an illness in Shanghai and spent several years ashore working on the Forbes’ houses and yachts. Apparently both Forbes brothers were close to the Smiths, there were gifts back and forth, and after Jonathan’s death his widow worked for many years as a secretary for John Forbes.

The scenes show a large frigate off of Boston Harbor, hove-to getting ready to receive or discharge a pilot. It appears that Lane has depicted the same moment, one with the bow approaching, the other astern. One can clearly see the pilot schooner’s “canoe”, used to ferry the pilot to and from the frigate, being hauled over the pilot schooner’s side in the stern view, barely visible in the bow view. The jaunty “wherry” with the small sail set in the bow view is not the pilot canoe but a device Lane inserted to further enliven the scene, along with the ubiquitous red shirt.

Interestingly, these paintings may have been commissioned to commemorate the Boston pilot schooner rather than the large frigate. The pilot schooner in both paintings flies the blue and white flag of the Boston pilots, and her hull has a shape and color scheme nearly identical to that of the schooner “Sylph” which was built as a yacht in 1834 and worked as a Boston pilot boat in 1836-37.  For part of her yachting career she was owned by Robert Bennett Forbes and Samuel Cabot. It seems plausible that R. B. Forbes commissioned these paintings of his old yacht, now a pilot schooner, which were later acquired or given to his brother John Murray Forbes and hence to Jonathan Smith.

They are a handsome pair, very confidently executed by Lane, who has depicted a fresh, blowy day with scudding clouds and an active sea. As always with Lane, the rigging and details of the frigate are beautifully and correctly noted, even to the point of one of the forward jib sheets flying free shown in both views. Based on the confident, economical paint handling, these paintings likely date from the late 1840s or even early 1850s. 

–Sam Holdsworth

Citation: "New Discoveries: Lane Pendants Descended in New England Family." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed July 24, 2024).
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