Fitz Henry Lane

Artist Biography

Hudson River School Artist Known for Marine Paintings of New England and Contributions to Founding of ‘Luminism’

By Alexandra A. Jopp

Painting in the English and Dutch seascape tradition, Lane became one of America’s most admired marine painters and the founding father of Luminism.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Fitz Henry Lane (formerly known as Fitz Hugh Lane), a founding figure of Luminism, was born Nathaniel Rogers Lane in Gloucester, Mass., on Dec. 19, 1804. A child prodigy, Lane would grow up to become one of the premier American artists of the nineteenth century, with works on display in 27 museums and the White House. His art retains a high status among collectors, and in 2004, his Manchester Harbor (1853) sold for $5.5 million at an auction in Boston.

This posthumous prosperity, however, is in stark contrast to Lane’s difficult childhood. His oldest brother, Steven, died in 1815, a year after his father, Jonathan, a local sail maker, died from fever. Lane himself was unable to walk, having lost the use of his legs to infantile paralysis soon after turning 2 years old. Through these hardships, he relied on a deep spirituality, and he began to find himself in drawing. At about 15, he worked for a brief time as a shoemaker, but as his nephew Edward Lane observed, “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.”1

In Boston, Lane worked as an apprentice in Pendleton’s lithography shop, where he made small topographic sketches of Boston Harbor and found success with View of the Town of Gloucester, Mass. (1836). Lane also worked at, among other places, the lithography shop of artist Thomas Moran (sometime between 1835-1840) before forming his own lithography shop with friend J.W.A. Scott, a marine painter. Here, Lane produced panoramic scenes of coastal New England and, inspired by European artists Robert Salmon (1775-1848) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), began to paint in oils. His subjects included landscapes, marines and, occasionally, ship portraits. He turned his full attention to marine painting when he moved back to Gloucester in 1848, perfecting Luminist techniques, such as painting “a cool, undiluted light that rendered that harbor and shore with great clarity and captured the subtle changes in atmospheric effects.”2 His works would bring fame to his hometown: “It was Gloucester’s native son, Fitz Hugh [sic] Lane,” one art historian noted, “who immortalized the town in numerous painted views from 1848 until his death in 1865.”3 He built a house overlooking the harbor and lived there for the rest of his life, making occasional trips to Maine, where he produced images of dawn and dusk in hot cadmium colors such as Twilight on the Kennebec (1849), which is considered to be one of the premier expressions of his artistic vision.

Lane’s work matured further after 1850. His paintings from this time are characterized by a new feeling of openness, and the last two last lithographs he produced – Castine from Hospital Island (1855) and View of Gloucester (1856) – are regarded as his finest prints. Castine, in particular, is his most striking lithograph, and it clearly captures his technical and stylistic advances. Lane’s depictions of seascapes resulted not from a desire to follow the fashion of his European peers but, rather, from a deep-rooted interest. And perhaps no one in Europe could have painted the extraordinary beauty of the azure coasts of New England with the expressiveness and luminosity of Fitz Henry Lane.

II. Chronology

1804 Born on December 19 in Gloucester, Mass.
1805 Christened at the First Parish Church on March 17 as Nathaniel Rogers Lane
1806 Paralyzed from the waist down
1815 Oldest brother died
1816 Father died
1831 Wrote to Commonwealth of Massachusetts requesting name change
1832 Became an apprentice in the Boston lithographic firm of William Pendleton
1840s Formed a lithographic firm with J.W.A. Scott
1848-55 Series of visits to Maine
1848 Moved back to Gloucester, Mass.
1849 Began to devote himself fully to marine painting
1865 Died on August 14 in Gloucester, Mass.
2004 Manchester Harbor (1853) sold for $5.5 million at auction in Boston

III. Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Mass.
Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, St. Joseph, Mo.
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Mass.
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Cincinnati Art Museum
Cleveland Museum of Art
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester New Hampshire
Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass.
Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of the City of New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vt.
Smithsonian Institution Art Inventories, Washington, D.C.
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, Calif.
Virginia Musuem of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va.

IV. Exhibitions

1859 National Academy of Design, New York
Boston Athenaeum
1965 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
1988 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
2004 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
2005 Museum of American Art, Giverny, France
2007 Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass.

V. Memberships

American Union of Associationists
National Academy of Design

VI. Notes

1: Craig, James A. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2006), p. 31.
2: Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: A Historical Guide to America’s Original Art Colonies and Their Artists (Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 38.
3: Ibid.

VII. Suggested Resources

Craig, James A. Fitz H. Lane: An Artist's Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2006.
Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1969.
Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850-1930: A Historical Guide to America’s Original Art Colonies and Their Artists. Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Wilmerding, John. American Art. London: Penguin Books, 1976
Wilmerding, John. American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850-1875. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1980.
Wilmerding, John. Paintings by Fitz Hugh [sic] Lane. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1988

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