By Gail McCarthy
---- — Almost 150 years after his death, the works of Gloucester artist Fitz Henry Lane continue to rein in high prices at auction.
At a recent Skinner Inc. auction, a Lane painting titled “Camden Mts. from the Graves” led the sale of American and European Works, bringing in $1,384,000. The total gross of the American and European works at the Sept. 20 Boston auction was $3.2 million.
Lane (1804-1865), the son of a sailmaker, was drawn to art at an early age and made a living from his talents.
Skinner remains a leader in the sale of works by Lane. In 2004, the Skinner auction house sold a painting titled “Manchester Harbor” for $5.5 million, which still holds the world-record for the highest price realized for the artist at auction. That painting meaures 24 x 36 inches, larger than the recent sale of the Maine scene, which is 13 x 22 inches.
Robin Starr, Skinner’s vice president and director of American & European Works of Art, said this latest painting is an “exquisite” example of the Gloucester artist’s work.
“It has the wonderful stillness and luminous quality one expects in a Lane,” Starr said. “We rarely see new works by the artist come up for auction, so this painting was an especially exciting offering.”
Starr agreed that prices for Lane paintings are holding up, like they do for any work of great quality.
“It has all the elements you expect to see in a strong Lane of his mature style. It has the wonderful sense of quiet in it,” she said. “You have everything from the golden hour light catching the sails to the two figures you can see in the catboat in the foreground.”
The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester houses the world’s largest collection of Lane paintings and drawings. The museum collection is comprised of 40 paintings, a rare watercolor, 100 drawings and lithographic town views.
Lane is often described as a Luminist painter for the way he captured the effects of light on canvas. He was known for his marine paintings, which commonly feature Cape Ann seascapes.
As a young man, Lane moved to Boston where he worked as an apprentice to a Boston lithographer. Later on in his career, he moved back to Gloucester and focused on his painting.
Tim Barringer, a British art historian at Yale, and John Wilmerding, a Lane scholar and professor in American Art Emeritus at Princeton, both lectured at Gloucester City Hall in 2007 during a lecture series about the artist.
Barringer, who wrote of Lane during a major exhibition in London in 2002, noted that British critics known for their harsh judgments of American artists also wrote highly of the work of Gloucester’s native son.
“What was striking,” wrote Barringer, “was that the British critics most admired Lane because of the intimacy and simplicity of his work compared to the work of his American contemporaries, who they called showmen. Lane’s work spoke to a modern audience directly.”
Kathy Wong, a Skinner specialist in American and European artworks, said the painting is based both from a preparatory sketch (housed in the Cape Ann Museum collection) as well as Lane’s memory of the second day on his cruise from Rockland to Camden, Maine, that he took with Joseph Lowe Stevens, Jr. in September 1855.
Wong noted that this painting was only one of four well-documented trips to Maine, and “Camden Mts. from the Graves” is only one of several works depicting Maine that have been offered at auction within the last two decades.
The painting was signed and dated “FH Lane 1862.” It was inscribed on the reverse side that it was from: “H. Lane to J.L. Stevens Jr./Gloucester 1862./A Souvenir of our excursion to Penobscot Bay, Septr. 1855.”
Skinner’s website described the relationship between the artist and the recipient, a member of an old Gloucester family.
Lane was often a guest of Dr. Joseph Lowe Stevens, Sr., at his home in Castine, Maine, where Lane first visited in 1848. Over the years, Lane dedicated several of his paintings to Dr. Stevens’s son, Joseph Lowe Stevens, Jr. (1823-1908). A friendship developed between Lane and the family.
“The younger Stevens, who moved from Castine to Gloucester in 1840, became a close friend of Lane, most likely meeting the artist through the Gloucester Lyceum library, where both men were members. The friendship blossomed as Lane spent more time in Gloucester, especially after he moved into his stone house on the hill,” according to the Skinner website.
That “house on the hill” refers to the Fitz Henry Lane house on Harbor Loop, which overlooks the inner harbor and where he did many of his paintings later in life.
“Lane spent a number of summers in the 1850s in Castine, staying at the ‘Old Homestead,’ as the Stevens’s residence was known. From the house there was a good view down to the waterfront and the bay.
Joseph Stevens, Jr., would row or sail Lane to various locations in the Penobscot Bay where Lane would sketch scenes he would later turn into oils in his Gloucester studio,” according to the Skinner website.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.