October 14, 2009

Fitz Hugh Lane

Entrance of Somes Sound from Southwest Harbor, 1852, 23 x 36 inches

Approaching Storm, Owl's Head, 1860, 24 x 40 inches

The Western Shore with Norman's Woe, 1862, 21 x 35 inches

Brace's Rock, Brace's Cove, 1864, 10 x 15 inches

After writing the post on John Peto, I thought that I'd like to discuss the work of another American 19th century painter whose work, I believe, has quite a lot in common with his: Fitz Hugh Lane. They are both painters of great reticence, presenting their subjects with a minimum of artistic personality; brushwork is restrained and the object maintains its integrity. There is a mood of introspection, of silence and thought. Compositions have a simple clarity; even though with Lane we see forms in deep space, it is evident that all are placed with the same eye towards structure and balance that is in Peto's work. And in both artists we see modesty in the size of their canvases, and an abiding interest in the ordinary. For Lane, who lived by the shore in Gloucester, Massachusetts, scenes of boats on water were of everyday life.

Another landscape painter of the same period, Frederick Church, is an artist of grand dramatic scenes, often of foreign lands, painted on huge canvases. His theatrical canvases, full of incident and swirling light, contrast strongly with the quiet ones of Lane. When we look at Lane's landscapes, we see a container of limpid light, with every thing in it as important as every other thing; each form has the artist's attention. Atmospheric perspective lightens and cools distant objects, but each maintains a crisp outline; as with Peto, knowledge is superior to vision. We are invited onto the shores, to feel the rocks, to contemplate the expansive space before us.

(The images were photographed from the exhibition catalogue, Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, by John Wilmerding)


  1. Beautiful.

    Fitz didst so
    finely hew his lane; just as we, each
    in turn, must so hoe our respective row.

  2. Have you been to Olana, Church's home on the Hudson? It is quite wonderful, even on day when you can't see down the river. The site suggests a lot about his personality. Visiting also made his paintings seem more approachable. There are very few other tourists so you get to ask lots of questions and linger.

  3. Yes, I've been to Olana, Linda. Matter of fact, I spent several summers in the Hudson River valley, painting, and did a couple of paintings of Olana. It's a marvelous building, with beautiful grounds. They have a huge collection of Church's small studies there.