a bold new venture: the Works of Fitz Henry Lane Online

We are currently working with the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts on a project of tremendous scope and importance, for which it is receiving generous support from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Danversbank Charitable Foundation, and the John H. & Naomi Tomfohrde Foundation. The finished product will be a website comprised of three discrete yet fully integrated components: a CATALOG of paintings, drawings, and lithographs by the extraordinary 19th Century American Luminist painter and native of Gloucester Fitz Henry Lane (1804–65); a DIGITAL ARCHIVE of related images and documents that draws on the extensive holdings of the Cape Ann Museum and many other institutions; and a compilation of SCHOLARLY WRITINGS that sheds light on Lane’s life, work, and times. In the following description, the texts in red highlight our role in the project.

All the archival material, new photography, recent scholarship, and up-to-the-minute research is being cataloged in a series of relational databases we developed for this project and will be made available through an innovative interpretive web site we are designing for the Museum.

gloucester gloucester 4
1 Fitz Henry Lane late in life, c.1860. Photograph courtesy Cape Ann Museum Archives, Gloucester, Mass. 2 Fitz Henry Lane, Gloucester Harbor, 1852. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass, Deposited by the City of Glouceser, 1952
3 Fitz Henry Lane, Gloucester Harbor (detail),1852. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Deposited by the City of Gloucester, 1952 4 Fitz Henry Lane, Gloucester Harbor (detail),1852. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Deposited by the City of Gloucester, 1952

At the heart of the project is a CATALOG that will contain detailed information about the works of Fitz Henry Lane, from the time they left his studio to the present day. Each catalog entry page includes a large high-quality digital image, the work’s catalog number, its present title, all known alternate titles, creation date(s), medium and support, dimensions, inscription, present location, and credit line. Every entry also includes a history of ownership, an exhibition history (with links to the exhibitions), publications where the work is mentioned (linked to the full citation), a scholar’s commentary that places the work in context, supplementary images, links to related works, and a substantial group of keywords. In addition to the entries, the user can examine the exhibitions separately, find all the literature, trace Lane’s artistic development through an illustrated chronology, look at biographical material, and sift through a wealth of scholarship in essays written just for the project. And, to top it all off, the quantity of pinpoint searches is simply unsurpassed.

Becalmed off Half Way Rock Aelbert Cuyp 6
vessels New England Boat 8
5 Fitz Henry Lane, Becalmed off Halfway Rock (detail), c.1860. National Gallery of Art. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1992.51.8 6 Aelbert Cuyp, The Maas at Dordrecht, c.1650. National Gallery of Art. Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1940.2.1
7 Fitz Henry Lane, Gloucester Inner Harbor (modified), c.1850. The Mariners’ Museum. Newport News, Virginia, (1946.0830.000001) 8 New England Boat, square-sterned type. Photo courtesy Cape Ann Museum Archives, Gloucester, Mass.

In cooperation with the Museum we expanded our already robust catalog software to include materials that will help trace Lane’s artistic influences,  affinities and development, illuminate his methods, subjects and motifs, and reveal much about his environment, his patrons and his collectors.

In particular, Lane’s influences and affinities pertain to the precedence set by early Dutch painters of sailing subjects and by the direct influence of English marine painters. A substantial number of works by Dutch artists were exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum during the years Lane spent in Boston. Robert Salmon, a successor to the English marine painting tradition, worked in Boston between 1828 and 1842, and his works were known to Lane. The Artistic Influences and Affinities section is comprised of images, descriptive texts, and documentation—all linked to related works in the catalog.

Other sections contain pieces discovered to have been reworked in part by others, variations on entire paintings made by different artists, works once attributed to, but no longer considered to be by Lane, etc. There are also images, descriptive texts, and documentation linked to related works in the catalog.

drawing painting gill net
Left: Fitz Henry Lane, Plant and Two Figures (detail), c.1850s. Cape Ann Museum. Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Center: Fitz Henry Lane, Gloucester Inner Harbor (detail), c.1850. The Mariners’ Museum. Newport News, Virginia, (1946.0830.000001)
Right: Gloucester fisherman with gill netting, photo courtesy Cape Ann Museum. Gloucester, Mass.

Another component of the project is a DIGITAL ARCHIVE. With their guidance we expanded the database still further to incorporate materials contained in the Cape Ann Museum’s archives and those of other institutions, and linked these to the scenes and activities of mid nineteenth-century American life that Lane chose as his subjects.

We built a supplemental section of the database entirely devoted to Sailing Vessels. It’s filled with images and descriptions of every one of the hundreds of ships that are found in Lane’s works. By clicking on the New England Boat in Lane’s Becalmed Off Halfway Rock (c.1860) the user will find an historical photograph and discover that “the New England Boat was a very common work boat in Gloucester throughout the 1800s, usually sailed by one or two men, sometimes with a boy,” and that “it could be rowed as well as sailed.”

In addition to the documentation on related sailing vessels, the user of the web site will find information about all the working harbors that Lane depicted and in many cases the specific buildings and wharf structures, the people and their pictured activities. The user will discover that the “gill netting” the fishermen employ “was used to catch herring and alewives when spawning.”

Brace's Rock map 10
Infrared Photo 12
9 Fitz Henry Lane, Brace’s Rock, c.1863–64. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Gift of Harold and Betty Bell 10 Brace’s Rock sits off the shore of Eastern Point. The red arrow indicates Lane’s sight line from the beach.
11 Fitz Henry Lane, Brace’s Rock, Brace’s Cove (infrared detail), 1864. Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection 12 Contemporary photograph of Brace’s Rock. ©2011 Winston Boyer

The third component of the project is a compilation of SCHOLARLY WRITINGS—much of it newly commissioned research and scholarship on Lane and his world. The Museum’s staff will edit these materials for use on the website and place the original source materials in the Cape Ann Museum Library for future use by researchers.

The writings will cover, but not be limited to research and reflection on Lane’s relationship to the American, Dutch, and English marine painting traditions as well as to Luminism and Transcendentalism, the impact of contemporary drawing books on Lane’s particular artistic vision, technological analyses of his materials and artistic practices, interpretations of his themes (i.e. the series paintings, shipwrecks, etc.), and documentation of the history and economic development of Gloucester itself as recorded in Lane’s paintings of its landmarks and industries.

The Museum will continue to commission original research as new avenues of inquiry open up. It is anticipated that availability of this information on the web will stimulate further scholarship and submissions from experts in relevant fields.

85 Middle Street letter 14
Babson Meadows 16
13 The house where Fitz Henry Lane was born, 85 Middle Street, Gloucester, Mass., 1882. Photo courtesy Cape Ann Museum Archives, Gloucester, Mass. 14 Fitz Henry Lane, Letter to Joseph Stevens (verso). Cape Ann Museum Archives, Gloucester, Mass.
15 Concord Street, West Gloucester, 1872. Anonymous photographer. Photo courtesy, Cape Ann Museum Archives, Gloucester, Mass. 16 Fitz Henry Lane,The Babson Meadows at Riverdale,1863. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Gift of Roger W. Babson, 1937

The documents that complement the scholarly writings will also be made available on the website. They include letters, news clippings, manifests, photographs (old and new) of Lane motifs and subjects, conservation reports, x-ray and infrared images, site maps, and a series of composites that we will specially create for purposes of comparison and interpretation.

Together with the Cape Ann Museum we are engaged in a project that raises the bar on what one can expect from online scholarly tools, while it gives anyone who’s interested unparalleled access to everything the Museum has chosen to offer.

Top of page: Fitz Henry Lane, Gloucester Harbor at Sunrise (detail), c.1850, oil on canvas,
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Gift of Judge Lawrence Brooks, 1970