India House Foundation



Fitz who Lane?

Excerpted from "Collector's Notes," edited by Eleanor Gustafson, The Magazine ANTIQUES, June 2005. Courtesy Brant Publications, Inc.


Last September John Wilmerding delivered a lecture about the renowned American luminist painter Fitz H. Lane at the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts. As many of our readers know, Wilmerding was virtually single-handedly responsible for reintroducing art lovers to the beauties of Lane's work in the twentieth century, and, happily, he is currently at work on an exhibition of the artist's paintings scheduled for 2007. In concluding his talk that night, Wilmerding observed that despite all the material that had been discovered about Lane, many questions still remained about him. In the audience, Sarah Dunlap, a member of the Gloucester Archives Committee, thought that local researchers could be helpful in answering some of those questions, and it turns out she was right. Specifically, she, Stephanie Buck of the Cape Ann Historical Museum, and other members of the archives committee, tackled Wilmerding's question, “Where and why did Fitz Hugh Lane become Fitz Hugh Lane, since he was born and baptized Nathaniel Rogers Lane?”

The researchers' most surprising discovery was that Lane was never officially Fitz Hugh Lane at all, but rather Fitz Henry Lane. On December 26, 1831, he wrote a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, petitioning “your Honorable Body, that he may take the name of Fitz Henry Lane, instead of Nathaniel, Rogers, Lane.”1 The petition was granted the following March. To date, however, no reasonable explanation for why he changed his name or why he chose Fitz Henry has been put forth.

Nonetheless, the unearthing of his middle name resolved an anomaly previously considered inexplicable by scholars, namely that two paintings are known that are signed “Fitz Henry Lane”-the one illustrated here and The Golden State Entering New York Harbor of 1854, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.2 Wilmerding surmises that since both paintings were going to New York, where Lane was less well known, he may have felt he needed to sign his full name.

How Henry became Hugh took Dunlap and her cohorts down something of a blind alley. They confirmed that Lane is listed in Boston directories in the 1840s simply as Fitz H. Lane, and is referred to that way in real estate records after he returned to Gloucester in 1848,3 as well as in his own will and in many letters and papers in local records. Book eleven of “Gloucester Deaths” documents the passing on August 13, 1865, of “Fitz. H. Lane” and obituaries in the Gloucester Telegraph and News, the Cape Ann Light, and the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph identify him by that name. Nonetheless, it is clear from other papers and documents that as late as 1915 it was known that the H. stood for Henry.4 The earliest instance of Hugh the researchers found was on a newspaper fragment, dated 1938 by hand, in which was offered for sale, “View of Gloucester, 1859, Drawn by Fitzhugh Lane/ L. H. Bradford lithograph.”5 In 1949 Maxim and Martha Karolik gave their Lane paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, at which point they were ascribed to Fitz Hugh Lane.

We are most grateful to Dunlap and her fellow researchers for allowing us to summarize their findings for our readers. Their full investigation of the records is included in Fitz Henry Lane, a reprint of Wilmerding's classic Fitz Hugh Lane (1971), which has been out of print for many years. The new book, just published for the Cape Ann Historical Museum by Bradford and Bigelow, contains the same text as in 1971 but illustrates many more paintings in color. But since no color illustration is as compelling as a painting on the wall, readers will surely also look forward to the exhibition of Lane's work planned for 2007.

1.        The letter is in a packet of documents accompanying “Laws of the Comm. Of Mass, Chap 124, March 13, 1832” in the Massachusetts Archives, Boston.

2.        It was inscribed “Painted by Fitz Henry Lane./Gloucester./Mass./A.D. 1854” before lining.

3.        He is so recorded in book 455, p. 289 of the Essex County registry of deeds (Salem, Massachusetts); and in the Gloucester Assessor's Valuations records of Harbor Parish, East Ward (Gloucester Archives, Gloucester City Hall).

4.        See, for instance, the obituary of his nephew Fitz H. Lane, in the Gloucester Daily Times, October 15, 1915: “Mr. Lane was a native of this city, being the son of Edward and Eunice (Norwood) Lane, and was a nephew of Fitz Henry Lane, the famous marine artist of this city, for whom he was named.”

5.        The newspaper clipping is catalogue number 759.13.L24 in the library of the Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts.