Fitz Hugh Lane

(19 December 1804 - 13 August 1865.)

Fitz Hugh Lane was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts. At the age of two he contracted polio, which left his legs paralyzed for life. As a youth, he sketched the Massachusetts coastline around Cape Ann. In the mid-1830s his talents came to the attention of the eminent lithographer William Pendleton, who invited Lane to become an apprentice in his Boston firm.

Pendleton's shop provided Lane with his only formal training in art. Lane produced several lithographed business cards and music-sheet covers. In 1837, he did his first town views, including the National Lancers on the Boston Common. During this time he also saw exhibitions of 17th-century Dutch art at the Boston Athenaeum, as well as the city and harbor views then being painted by the English artist Robert Salmon. These provided a stimulus for Lane's own early paintings.

Lane traveled back and forth between Boston and Gloucester during the late 1830s and early 1840s, then settled permanently in Gloucester in 1848. He did several paintings and lithographs of Gloucester which show a telling sense both for specific details and general effects of light and atmosphere. He was fascinated by the myriad activities along the harbor front and on the water, as revealed in his 1844, "View of Gloucester". The painting was subsequently redone as a lithograph.

In the summer of 1848, Lane made his first cruise along the Maine coast. Thereafter, he and various friends returned almost annually to explore the coast of Penobscot and Blue Hill bays and Mount Desert Island. Lane now began to paint quiet, evocative views, and he preferred to depict the transitional hours of the day, such as sunrise and sunset, rather than to fill his pictures with people, as he had done earlier. He applied his paint more thinly and used a glazing technique to create effects of serenity and stillness. Occasionally a contemplative figure appears, to reinforce the sense of man's spiritual harmony with nature.

All of Lane's later work possesses this aura of calm and spaciousness. He painted two pure landscapes near Gloucester in 1863, possibly under Martin Johnson Heade's influence. For the most part, however, Lane's life and art were remarkably self-contained, although his light-filled canvases forecast the direction of American landscape painting in subsequent decades. He remained actively at work up to the time of his death in 1865.

Fitz Henry Lane (born Nathaniel Rogers Lane, also known as Fitz Hugh Lane) (December 19, 1804 - August 14, 1865) was an American painter and printmaker of a style that would later be called Luminism, for its use of pervasive light.

Born in Gloucester, Massachusetts; Lane was christened Nathaniel Rogers Lane on March 17, 1805, and would remain known as such until he was 27. It was not until March 13, 1832 that the state of Massachusetts would officially grant Lane's own formal request (made in a letter dated December 26, 1831) to change his name from Nathaniel Rogers to Fitz Henry Lane.

As with practically all aspects of Lane's life, the subject of his name is one surrounded by much confusion. From the time of his birth, Lane would be exposed to the sea and maritime life -- a factor that obviously had a great impact his later choice of subject matter. Many circumstances of his young life ensured Lane's constant interaction with various aspects of this maritime life, including the fact that Lane's family lived "upon the periphery of Gloucester Harbor's working waterfront," and that his father, Jonathan Dennison Lane, was a sailmaker, and quite possibly owned and ran a sail loft. It is often speculated that Lane would most likely have pursued some seafaring career, or become a sail-maker like his father, instead of an artist, had it not been for a lifelong handicap Lane developed as a child. Although the cause cannot be known with certainty, it is thought that the ingestion of some part of the Peru-Apple -- a poisonous weed also known as jimsonweed -- by Lane at the age of eighteen months caused the paralysis of the legs from which Lane would never recover. Furthermore, it has been suggested by art history that because he could not play games as the other children did, he was forced to find some other means of amusement, and that in such a pursuit he discovered and was able to develop his talent for drawing. To go a step further, as a result of his having a busy seaport as immediate surroundings, he was able to develop a special skill in depicting the goings-on inherent in such an environment.

Lane could still have become a sail-maker, as such an occupation entailed much time spent sitting and sewing, and that Lane already had some experience sewing from his short-lived apprenticeship in shoe-making. However, as evidenced in this quote from Lane's nephew Edward Lane's "Early Recollections," his interest in art held much sway in his deciding on a career: "Before he became an artist he worked for a short time making shoes, but after a while, seeing that he could draw pictures better than he could make shoes he went to Boston and took lessons in drawing and painting and became a marine artist."

Lane acquired such "lessons" by way of his employment at Pendleton's Lithography shop in Boston, which lasted from 1832 to 1847. With the refinement and development of his artistic skills acquired during his years working as a lithographer, Lane was able to successfully produce marine paintings of high quality, as evidenced in his being listed, officially, as a "marine painter" in the Boston Almanac of 1840. Lane continued to refine his painting style, and consequently, the demand for his marine paintings increased as well.

Lane had visited Gloucester often while living in Boston, and in 1848, he returned permanently. In 1849, Lane began overseeing construction of a house/studio of his own design on Duncan's Point -- this house would remain his primary residence to the end of his life. Fitz Henry Lane continued to produce beautiful marine paintings and seascapes into his later years. He died in his home on Duncan's Point, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Training and influences

However ambiguous many aspects of Lane's life and career may remain, a few things are certain. First, Lane was, even in childhood, clearly gifted in the field of art. As was noted by J. Babson, a local Gloucester historian and contemporary in Lane's time, Lane "showed in boyhood a talent for drawing and painting; but received no instruction in the rules till he went to Boston." In addition to confirming Lane's early talent, this observation also indicates that Lane was largely self-taught in the field of art -- more specifically drawing and paintings -- previous to beginning his employment at Pendleton's lithography firm at the age of 28. Lane's first-known and recorded work, a watercolor titled "The Burning of the Packet Ship Boston," executed by Lane in 1830, is regarded by many art historians as evidence of Lane's primitive grasp of the finer points of artistic composition previous to his employment at Pendleton's.

Lane may have supplemented his primary, purely experiential practices in drawing and painting with the study of instructional books on drawing, or more likely, by the study of books on the subject of ship design. Some study of the literature on the subject of ship design seems highly plausible, given that Lane would have had easy access to many such texts, and, more importantly, the most certain necessity of such a study in order for Lane to be able to produce works of such accurate detail in realistically depicting a ship as it actually appeared in one of any given number of possible circumstances it faced in traversing the sea.

At the time when Lane began his employment at Pendleton's, it was common practice for aspiring American artists -- especially those who, like Lane, could not afford a more formal education in the arts by traveling to Europe or by attending one of the prestigious American art academies, such as New York's National Academy of Design or Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts -- to seek work as a lithographer, this being the next logical step in their pursuit of a career in the arts. As for why such employment was beneficial to the budding artist, art historian James A. Craig, in his book Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America, the most comprehensive account of Lane's life and career, offers this illuminating description of the career evolution of the typical lithographer:

"... an apprentice's schooling presumably began with the graining of stones, the making of lithographic crayons, and the copying of the designs and pictures of others onto limestone. As his talents developed, the apprentice would find himself gradually taking on more challenging tasks, from drafting and composing images (the role of the designer) to ultimately being permitted to draw his own original compositions upon limestone (that most prestigious of ranks within the litho shop, the lithographic artist). Since the compositional techniques employed in lithography differed little from those taught in European academic drawing, and the tonal work so necessary for the process to succeed was akin to that found in painting (indeed, when his studio began in 1825, John Pendleton specifically sought out painters for employment in his establishment due to their habits of thinking in tonal terms), an apprenticeship within a lithographic workshop like Pendleton's in Boston was roughly equivalent to that offered by fine art academies for beginning students."

Working in the lithography shop, Lane would have been taught the stylistic techniques for producing artistic compositions from the practiced seniors among his fellow employees. As noted above, because Pendleton specifically sought painters to work in his shop, Lane would most likely have received the benefit of working under and with some of the most skilled aspiring and established marine and landscape painters of his day. The English maritime painter Robert Salmon, who, historians have discovered, came to work at Pendleton's at a period coinciding with Lane's employment therein, is regarded as having had a large impact, stylistically, on Lane's early works.

Beginning in the early 1840s, Lane would declare himself publicly to be a marine painter while simultaneously continuing his career as a lithographer. He quickly attained an eager and enthusiastic patronage from several of the leading merchants and mariners in Boston, New York, and his native Gloucester. Lane's career would ultimately find him painting harbor and ship portraits, along with the occasional purely pastoral scene, up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States, from as far north as the Penobscot Bay/Mount Desert Island region of Maine, to as far south as San Juan, Puerto Rico.


From one of his first copied lithographs, "View of the Town of Gloucester", Mass (1836), to his very last works, Lane would incorporate many of the following arrangements and techniques consistently in the composition of his art works, both his lithographs and paintings:
Nautical subject matter
Depiction of various naval craft in highly accurate detail
An over-all extensive amount of detail
The distinctive expanse of sky
Pronounced attention to depicting the interplay of light and dark
Hyper-accentuated vegetation within the immediate foreground
An elevated "insider point of view" perspective

Perhaps most characteristic element of Lane's paintings is the incredible amount of attention paid to detail -- probably due in part to his lithographic training, as the specific style of lithography that was popular at the time of his training was characterized by the goal of verisimilitude.

In terms of Lane's influences and relations to the artistic tradition of Luminism: as one definition of luminist art is that "characterized by a heightened perception of reality carefully organized and controlled by principles of design. As one of the styles of landscape painting to emerge in the nineteenth century, luminism embraced the contemporary preoccupation with nature as a manifestation of God's grand plan. It was luminism more than any other of the schools that succeeded in imbuing an objective study of nature with a depth of feeling. This was accomplished through a genuine love and understanding of the elements of nature -- discernible in the intimate arrangement of leaves on a bough -- and their arrangement to reveal the poetry inherent in a given scene."


Other findings have shed new light onto not only Lane's artistic process but have also revealed him to have been a staunch social reformer, particularly within the American temperance movement. As well, the long-held suspicion that Lane was a transcendentalist has been confirmed, and it has been uncovered that he was also a Spiritualist. Sensational claims that Lane was "a somewhat saddened and introspective figure …often prone to moodiness with friends", and that his existence was one of "quiet loneliness", have been proven fallacious with the full quotation of the testimony of John Trask, a patron, friend, and next door neighbor of the artist, who states that Lane "was always hard at work and had no moods in his work. Always pleasant and genial with visitors. He was unmarried having had no romance. He was always a favorite and full of fun. He liked evening parties and was fond of getting up tableaux."

Long believed to have given instruction to only one artist during his career -- a local lady of limited artistic abilities named Mary Mellen -- it has now been established that Lane was the instructor and mentor to several other artists, most importantly Benjamin Champney and America's other great 19th century marine painter, William Bradford.

A contemporary of the Hudson River School, he enjoyed a reputation as America's premier painter of marine subjects during his lifetime, but fell into obscurity soon after his death with the rise of French Impressionism. Lane's work would be rediscovered in the 1930s by the great art collector Maxim Karolik, after which his art steadily grew in popularity among private collectors and public institutions. His work can now command at auction prices ranging as high as three to five million dollars. en.wikipedia

The Burning of the Packet Ship Boston 1830 View of the Town of Gloucester, Mass. 1836
Steamer Brittania in a Gale 1842 Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck 1844
El fuerte y la isla Ten Pound, Gloucester, Mass. 1847 St. Johns, Porto Rico ca. 1850
Gloucester Inner Harbor 1850 The Fishing Party 1850
Clipper Ship Sweepstakes 1853 Boston Harbor 1854
Ships Passing in Rough Seas 1856 Stage Rocks & Western Shore, Gloucester Outer Harbor 1857
Lumber Schooners at Evening in Penobscot Bay 1860 The Western Shore with Norman's Woe 1862
Stage Fort Across Gloucester Harbor 1862 View of Coffin's Beach 1862
Gloucester Harbor at Sunrise 1863

View painter's work: Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865) [new window view]