Friday, January 23, 2015

Fitz Henry Lane at Auction and In Collections


Fitz Henry Lane was born Nathaniel Rogers Lane in the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts on December 18, 1804; in 1831 he legally changed his first and middle names, becoming Fitz Henry Lane. Paralyzed as a young child, probably by infantile polio, Lane was obliged to use crutches.

 He learned the rudiments of drawing and sketching while in his teens and in 1832 worked briefly with a lithographic firm in Gloucester. Later that year he moved to Boston for formal training and an apprenticeship with William S. Pendleton, owner of the city's most important lithographic firm. Lane remained with Pendleton until 1837, producing illustrations for sheet music and scenic views.
While in Boston Lane became acquainted with the work of the English-born artist Robert Salmon (1775-c.1845), who was the most accomplished marine painter in the area. Salmon's paintings, with their meticulously detailed ships and crisply rendered effects of light and atmosphere had a decisive influence on Lane's early style. By 1840 he had produced his first oils; two years later he was listed in a Boston almanac as a "Marine Painter." His Scene at Sea (present location unknown) was exhibited at the Boston Atheneum in 1841 and, after 1845, his works were regularly shown there.

During the mid-1840s Lane continued to produce both oils and lithographs, concentrating on landscapes, harbor views, and ship portraits. In 1848 he sold a painting to the American Art-Union in New York, which would subsequently purchase several more of his works. That summer he visited Maine with his life-long friend, the Gloucester merchant Joseph Stevens, Jr., whose family had a home in Castine. Lane would make many more visits to Maine during the rest of his life, and the distinctive scenery of the state became an increasingly important part of his artistic vocabulary.

In 1848 Lane moved permanently back to Gloucester, and with his sister and brother-in-law designed and constructed an impressive granite home overlooking the harbor. Although he traveled in the 1850s to such locations as Baltimore, New York, and, possibly, Puerto Rico, the scenery of Gloucester and Cape Ann would remain, with that of coastal Maine, at the very center of his artistic production. Although Lane's inconsistency in dating his works makes determining a strict stylistic evolution difficult, he seems to have reached a new maturity in the early 1850s.

In an important series of images of Boston harbor, presumably from the mid-1850s, Lane perfected a style characterized by carefully balanced, calmly ordered compositions and radiant effects of light and atmosphere. Some modern historians have seen these paintings as part of a "luminist" style said to have been employed by many other American artists of the 1850s and 1860s. Whatever the case, Lane's art seems to have been primarily personal in nature, and there is little evidence he took notice of other painters' works or was much involved in larger artistic circles.

During the 1860s Lane produced what are perhaps his most poignant paintings, again focussing primarily on familiar scenes around Gloucester and in Maine. He left little in the way of written or otherwise recorded statements about his art, but these later works are markedly different from works of just a few years earlier. Highly reductive in format, refined in execution, and intense in effect, these works suggest some new expressive intent on Lane's part, the nature of which has been the subject of much modern speculation.

In 1864 and 1865 Lane was in poor health and, following a bad fall in August 1865, apparently suffered a heart attack or stroke; he died in Gloucester on the 13th of that month. Although one Boston paper characterized his passing as "a national loss," Lane's reputation during his lifetime was primarily local; following his death he and his works were largely forgotten outside Gloucester.

With the revival of interest in nineteenth-century American painting during the 1940s, and, particularly with the large number of fine works by Lane presented to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Maxim Karolik in 1948, he was gradually reinstated as a key figure. (At some point in the early twentieth century the artist's middle name began to appear erroneously as "Hugh," and he subsequently became well known as Fitz Hugh Lane. Archival research conducted in 2004-2005 irrefutably proved that his name was, in fact, Fits Henry Lane; see "appendix" in John Wilmerding, Fitz Henry Lane {Glouchester, Mass, 2005]).

 Sotheby’s 3 December 2009

Painted circa 1852, Fitz Henry Lane’s View of Camden Mountains from Penobscot Bay (est. $600/800,000), presents a different view of Maine. Between 1848 and his death in 1865, Lane made regular visits to Maine, where he stayed with the family of a close friend. Lane’s intimate knowledge of the state’s landscape led him to complete detailed compositions of the state’s myriad bays, islands, and peninsulas that dotted the coast, manipulating the striking atmospheric light of the summer months, especially during the sunrise and sunset. Lane based his finished oils such as View of Camden Mountainson sketches and studies completed while touring the area; the lack of foreground in many of his drawings suggests he completed them while on board a boat.

View of Camden Mountains displays Lane’s careful draftsmanship, control of color values and strong silhouettes. 

 Sotheby's 2008

Fitz Henry Lane
LOT SOLD. 769,000 USD
Skinner 2004

Fitz Henry Lane,  
Manchester Harbor

Skinner set a new world record for a painting by Fitz Henry Lane in November 2004: a record that still stands today. The $5.5 million price bested the previous world record price for the artist by over $1.5 million. Even more exciting, this was the third record price that Skinner set for a work by Fitz Henry Lane, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost American painters of the 19th century. At the time, this painting was also the most valuable artwork ever sold at auction in New England.

Lane was born in 1804 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and spent much of his youth sketching the Cape Ann shore, north of Boston. He also seems to have undergone two name changes, only one of which was of his own doing. He was born Nathaniel Rogers Lane. As a young man he changed his name, possibly to differentiate himself from the well-known miniature painter Nathaniel Rodgers. He apprenticed with William S. Pendleton, the Boston lithography firm, in the early 1830s, specializing in topographic views. At this time, he began signing his works “F.H. Lane.” Lane fell out of favor with collectors in the late 19th century, and remained that way well into the 20th century. As of the 1930s, if scholars considered Lane at all, they considered his name to be Fitz Hugh Lane. In fact, when Manchester Harbor sold in 2004 this was still thought to be the case. It was not until 2005 that researchers in Gloucester, Massachusetts rediscovered the 1831 letter Lane had written to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requesting a name change to Fitz Henry Lane.

Whether you call him Nathaniel, Hugh, or Henry, the artist probably saw the works of Robert Salmon and Washington Allston in Boston in the early 1840s. It was at this time that he decided to concentrate on painting. The paintings of the late 1840s and early 1850s reflected Lane’s earlier graphics training, in conjunction with the influence of the marine artists of the earlier generation. As is apparent in Manchester Harbor, the foreground details with its figures, piers, and spits of land, the scale for the work while accentuating the vastness of the view and its light. The low placement of the horizon line allows for an expansive sky. Tinted with the warm hues of sunrise and reflected in the calm waters, the light becomes the focus of the work, as is typical of Luminism.

The horizontal arrangement of the composition creates stillness in spite of the great, varied activity of the foreground. In conjunction with the concentration of light around a sun viewed through clouds just above the horizon, Manchester Harbor foreshadows the increasing calm and poetry of Lane’s mature Luminist style as it would emerge in the late 1850s.

Skinner 2013


Fitz Henry Lane (American, 1804-1865) Camden Mts. from the Graves

Sold for:

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865),  
Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857, 
oil on canvas, John Wilmerding Collection  

Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865), 
Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester, c. 1864, 
oil on canvas, John Wilmerding Collection