Thanks to the estate of Ellen Guild Moot, Penobscot Marine Museum recently acquired the Fitz Henry Lane oil on canvas painting “The Lumber Schooner”, painted in 1850.
The Buyer: Edward Dyer Peters ( 1785-1856)
In the 18th century the lumber trade between Maine and Massachusetts was disorganized. Lumber went south on speculation fetching whatever the market paid when it arrived. Edward Dyer Peters changed this. Born in Blue Hill Maine (the son of John Peters, who by 1790 was Blue Hill’s most prosperous citizen) by 1800 he was a partner with his brother John in Ellsworth’s lumber business. Then, Ellsworth, built on the Union River, was a major lumber port with the river floating logs from the woods and powering sawmills. To organize the trade, Ellsworth’s lumber merchants apparently sent Peters to Boston somewhere about 1811, where Peters established a lumber wholesale business, able to maintain and inventory and send orders back. His business prospered; in 1856 his estate apparently passed some $600,000 to his six surviving children, something like 60 million in todays dollars. He also owned three of Lane’s paintings.
The Artist: Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865)
By 1850, Gloucester’s Fitz Henry Lane had become Massachusetts premier marine painter whose works were owned by merchants, shipowners and prominent citizens of Coastal New England and New York. His views of Boston Harbor, Gloucester, and Maine’s coast were eagerly sought. He vacationed in Castine and traveled the coast by small boat in search of Maine scenes. He also painted on commission; many Bostonians had him create paintings of their ships. This painting, one of three bought by Peters, was likely such a commission, with Peters wanting a good painting of the modest lumber schooners of the time, the ships which made his living.
Today Lane’s paintings are owned by major American art museums; his art has produced many exhibits and catalogs. The Cape Ann Museum is the major source and repository of his paintings. For more information see http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/.
Here the schooner is off what is probably Gloucester’s Eastern Point Light, down bound for Boston. It looks like she has just tacked to a course for Boston with her topsail still needing to be angled around to catch the fresh westerly wind. Lumber is piled high on her deck, a common practice before the much larger later lumber schooners. The crew works the vessel from the top of the pile and the helmsman relies on a bow lookout to see forward.
The painting has a coasting schooner at the right leaving Gloucester, possibly with a load of dried cod for the West Indies. To the left is a Gloucester fishing schooner bound east for the Grand Banks. The fishermen would be hand lining from the schooner and racing home with a load of fresh cod. To the lower right is a small spritsail rigged boat, likely being sailed by an inshore fisherman.
For the last 165 years or so the painting has been in the Peters family. Its donor wanted to share it.