Published: November 28, 2017
By Rick Russack
GLOUCESTER, MASS. – Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865) is best known for his marine paintings, but before working in oils he was a skilled printmaker. “Drawn from Nature & on Stone: The Lithographs of Fritz Henry Lane,” the first comprehensive exhibition focusing on this aspect of Lane’s career, is on view at the Cape Ann Museum through March 4. It features lithographs from the Cape Ann Museum’s own holdings and from collections throughout the region. Lenders include the American Antiquarian Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. The show explores connections between Lane’s work as a printmaker and a painter and offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about the art of lithography.
Georgia Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon curator of graphic arts emerita at the America Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass., served as guest curator. Her excellent catalog provides the basis for this review.
The exhibition documents Lane’s success at creating illustrations for sheet music, business cards and stationery, advertising materials and book illustrations. Included is a series of views Lane created of towns and cities, including Gloucester and Boston, Mass.; Norwich, Conn.; Castine, Maine; and Baltimore, Md. In total, Lane is thought to have had a hand in the production of approximately 65 lithographs or more. Gloucester was Lane’s birthplace and home for most of his life. The house he lived in, commanding one of the finest panoramic views of the town’s harbor, still stands.
According to Barnhill, Lane came of age just as lithography was established as a printmaking medium in the United States. The process, developed in Europe in the late 1790s, was far less costly than producing prints by engraving or by the intaglio processes. Lane’s experience in lithographic shops in Boston formed the foundation for his later career as an artist.
His story is not unlike that of the fictional Horatio Alger. From a working-class family, he lost his father when he was 12. Additionally, he was disabled at an early age. Dependent on crutches throughout his life, he had limited career choices. He first worked as a shoemaker in Gloucester, but achieved artistic success after joining William S. Pendleton’s lithography shop in Boston around 1832. Exactly where he learned to draw is not known. How did Lane perfect his innate talent? Barnhill, in her catalog introduction, suggests “he may have been self-taught and, lacking any other evidence, we can only assume that Lane spent as much time drawing as he could.”
Shortly after he joined Pendleton’s, the artist legally changed his name from Nathaniel Rogers Lane to Fitz Henry Lane. The Pendleton company provided an opportunity for young men with an interest in art, including others who later rose to fame, such as Benjamin Champney, to learn on the job. It is possible that a watercolor Lane did in 1830, “Burning of the Packet Ship Boston,” included in this exhibition, came to the attention of Pendleton and helped Lane secure his position.
Barnhill notes, “Among those affiliated with the Pendleton shop before Lane’s arrival were several individuals with interests in art education who might have mentored the talented amateur. Thomas Edwards [1795-1869] produced a lithographic drawing manual devoted to figure drawing, Edwards’ Lithographic Drawing Book: Figure, in 1829 and the Juvenile Drawing Book, or Instructions in Landscape Drawing, and Painting in Water-Colours, published in Boston by Perkins & Marvin in 1830. Margaret Snow, who married William Pendleton in 1831, taught drawing and painting in Boston and also produced several lithographs herself.”
While working in Boston, Lane would have had the opportunity to see paintings by many prominent artists. The pages of Boston newspapers often had announcements of auctions of paintings as well as displays in commercial venues such as Harding’s Gallery, where 200 works by Boston artists were on view in 1834. The Boston Athenaeum hosted public art exhibits beginning in 1827. By the early 1830s, one could view landscapes or seascapes by Washington Allston, Thomas Birch, John S. Blunt, George Loring Brown, Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty. Landscapes by or after European masters such as Nicolas Poussin and Salvator Rosa were also on view.
There was a great deal of art to be seen in Boston. Beginning in 1837, even the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association displayed fine art together with manufactured goods at its annual exhibitions. And, as John Wilmerding has noted, Lane probably met the eminent British marine artist Robert Salmon while working for Pendleton. Another influence on Lane was The Art Union, A Monthly Journal of the Fine Arts, published in London.
By 1833, Lane’s name began to appear on lithographs. Barnhill believes that “Sicilian Vespers,” a music score published by Charles Bradley, was one of the first items he drew on stone, probably copying an English edition. Only his initials appear. Two other images made by Lane at this time are of young girls, “Love Among the Roses” and “Pretty Pet.” Lane captured varied and difficult textures in these prints by scratching highlights into dark passages and used a scraper for broader highlights.
Lane’s first major design for Pendleton was the “View of an Old Building at the Corner of Ann St., Boston” of 1835. Because of the building’s location at the intersection of Dock Square and North Street, this street view was a complex composition. Sharp angles of the buildings required knowledge of perspective. Fellow lithographer Benjamin Champney wrote many years after the fact that Lane was adept at urban views because of his understanding of perspective.
The inspiration for Lane’s first panoramic marine view, “View of the Town of Gloucester,” might have been paintings and prints by William James Bennett, who arrived in the United States from England by 1826 and traveled extensively throughout the country producing urban and landscape views. These elegant, hand colored aquatint views were completed in 1833. Lane quite likely saw them on display at the booksellers Lilly, Wait & Company, where subscriptions were being solicited. These aquatint views were $5 each.
The 1836 “View of the Town of Gloucester” is signed “Drawn from Nature on stone by F.H. Lane.” It is clear that both the drawing and lithographic stone were Lane’s work. Other prints by Lane have a confusing variety of signatures. Some are signed “F.H. Lane del.” and do not specify whether he was responsible for the original design or preparing the stone for publishing. Sometimes the design of the print is attributed to another artist, making Lane’s role as draftsman on stone clear. Some prints are signed “On Stone by F.H. Lane,” “Sketched from Nature by F.H. Lane,” “F.H. Lane pinxit” or “From a Painting by F.H. Lane,” again clarifying his role.
As noted in the catalog, “Although this is Lane’s first known attempt at a panoramic view, it is a sophisticated composition, reflecting two viewpoints – one from above looking down to the foreground and one looking across at the distance. The print was a major turning point in his career. Lane experimented with reflections of ships on water, a difficult detail to master, and depicted houses and shacks in East Gloucester on the shore of Smith’s Cove curving from the foreground to the middle ground. Filled with a wealth of detail from plants in the foreground to buildings on the horizon and vessels of several types in between, this view of his native Gloucester is among the earliest lithographed panoramic views published in the United States.”
“In July 1836, Pendleton sold his business to his bookkeeper, Thomas Moore. While affiliated with Moore, Lane signed his share of illustrations for the covers of music scores and a commercial view, but he also drew several major urban and landscape views. Moreover, his skill as a draftsman on stone was recognized, for Moore apparently commissioned him to copy on stone works by other artists. In the space of about five years, Lane drew two views of Boston Harbor, two panoramas of the landscape south of Worcester, a view of Lowell, a fire in St John and a view of a hotel in Worcester, in addition to half a dozen vignettes for music covers.”
By the early 1840s, Lane was not affiliated with any single printer, probably because he was establishing himself as an artist. In 1841 he commissioned an engraver to produce a trade card that identified him as a “Marine Painter” with a studio on Summer Street in Boston. By this time, Lane had started to paint in oils, producing “Sea Beach and Scene at Sea” by 1841, and two versions of the “Cunard Liner Britannia” in 1842. His “Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck,” a handsome painting that presages many important harbor views to come, is dated 1844. Four of his marine paintings received a Silver Medal at the third exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association in September 1841. By 1843, not long after Robert Salmon stopped painting harbor scenes and ship portraits and returned to Great Britain, Lane received commissions from ship owners to produce ship portraits.
While working from his Summer Street studio, he continued to produce lithographs. Lane received commissions from several different printers to produce lithographs between 1840 and 1845. The lithographic work he did in these few years can be characterized as “job work” and probably provided funds for him to continue painting in oils. From 1844 to 1848, Lane formed a publishing partnership with John W.A. Scott. The firm was prolific. Among those who trained at the firm with Scott and Lane were John H. Bufford, Nathaniel Currier and Moses Swett, all of whom later managed printmaking firms.
The accompanying catalog illustrates more than 60 of Lane’s prints and details his development, first as a lithographer and then as a painter. The Cape Ann Museum has the world’s largest collection of Lane’s oils, so one can examine his paintings as well as the lithographs in the same building. The museum’s collection includes Lane’s drawings, lithographs and related archival material. The museum maintains a website devoted to the artist, with more than 300 works illustrated and described.
The exhibition, catalog and related programming were organized in conjunction with Fitz Henry Lane Online, a catalogue raisonné and resource tool created by the Cape Ann Museum. For further information, visit its website at www.capeannmuseum.org.
A retired book dealer, contributing editor Rick Russack lives in a 1760 house in southern New Hampshire with his rescue dog, Charlie.
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