India House Foundation



Another piece in the Fitz Henry Lane name puzzle

Excerpted from "Collector's Notes," edited by Eleanor Gustafson, The Magazine ANTIQUES.


 In the past couple of years it was discovered that the American painter long known as Fitz Hugh Lane, who had been baptized Nathaniel Rogers Lane, had officially changed his name to Fitz Henry Lane in 1832.1  But, as with many other aspects of his life and work, confusion lingers, particularly as to why and when “Henry” became “Hugh.”  A new puzzle piece has been added by Margaret Stocker, formerly curator of the art and library collection at India House, a private luncheon club in New York City, and now a trustee of the India House Foundation.  She writes:”

 In my research to provide provenances for the oil paintings purchased in 1914 at the founding of India House in Lower Manhattan, I found a newspaper advertisement of 1913 that may be the source for “Henry” becoming “Hugh.”  The 1935 catalogue of the collection of paintings at India House includes an “Oil painting by F.H. Lane, of Boston, of the medium clipper ship “Northern Light2 (illustrated here), the acquisition of which is documented in a letter dated December 10, 1914, to Willard Dickerman Straight (1880 – 1918), an investment banker and diplomat who was also a cofounder of India House, addressed to him in care of his employer, J.P. Morgan and Company in New York City.  Written by Arthur Williams Jr. of Arthur Williams Jr. and Company, importers and retailers of East India, Turkish, and Persian carpets and rugs in Boston, the letter reads: “When I was in New York recently I took great interest in going down to see the India House on Hanover Square.  I write today in regard to a great collection of American clipper ship pictures which I have.  These I would like to sell to the India House.  Some are painted by Fitz Hugh Lane, who was about the best American painter, and some by [George Stanfield] Walters, the English painter….


Northern Light, by Fitz Henry Lane (1804 – 1865).  Oil on canvas, 23 by 35 inches.  Collection of India House, New York City.

For two years I have advertised in the Boston Transcript every day for old ship pictures but obtained only a very few, good enough for my collection, so you can see really how scarce the old pictures by good artists, in good condition are now a days.”3  Straight took Williams up on his offer, remitting a check for seven thousand dollars with a letter dated February 25, 1915, and a list of thirty-one oil paintings (including Northern Light), two watercolors, and one print.4

Williams’s letter led me to search out additional information about him in Boston newspapers, and I found that his firm advertised regularly in the Boston Evening Transcript from at least 1912 to 1914.  In addition, on January 2, 1913, an advertisement headlined “Old Clipper Ships” appeared in the newspaper for the first time (it reappeared once or twice a week for the next two years), stating that “Paintings of old Clipper Ships. Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane preferred” were being sought by “D. A. W., Boston Transcript” (see below).  Although not known for sure. D. A. W. is probably our Arthur Williams, building his “great collection of American clipper ship pictures.”

Advertisement that appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript, January 2, 1913.

Whatever the case, for reasons that are still unknown Hugh had already crept into the artist’s name by 1913.  In fact, there was a famous Hugh Lane in 1913 – Sir Hugh Percy Lane, a London collector and dealer in impressionist art and a champion of Irish art, who had founded Dublin’s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908.  In an article in the Transcript on November 23, 1912, the writer mentions “The well-known collection of Dutch masters belonging to Sir Hugh Lane.”

Another observation bears noting here.  The “Old Clipper Ships” advertisement appears to be in the same typeface that the Boston paintings dealers Vose Galleries used for its advertisements in the Transcript starting in 1912, an “extended” font not seen as the primary design element of any other advertisements in the paper in 1913.  Perhaps “D. A. W.” though it would catch the eye of Vose’s customers, who would have had an interest in old paintings.

1For more, see “Collector’s notes,” The Magazine ANTIQUES, vol. 167, no. 6 (June 2005), p. 48.

2A Descriptive Catalogue of the Marine Collection to be Found at India House (India House, New York, 1935), p. 26, no.54.

3Arthur Williams Jr. to Willard Straight, December 10, 1914, microfilm reel 13, Dorothy Whitney Straight Elmhirst Papers 1887 – 1978, Rare and Mnuscript Collections, Cornell University Libraries, Ithaca, New York.

4Willard Straight to Arthur Williams, February 25, 1915, ibid.