Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fitz Henry Lane and Mary Mellen

Here's my essay, "What's in a Name? Why it’s Fitz Henry, not Fitz Hugh, Lane — and why it matters." It discusses the exhibition “Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries," organized by Lane scholar John Wilmerding at Gloucester's Cape Ann Historical Museum, which examines Lane’s artistic relationship with one of his chief students. My piece also considers new research into the 19th century Gloucester marine painter, including that Lane's middle name was actually Henry (see detail below) and not Hugh as long thought, and questions that the correction of this and other errors raises about the accuracy of previous Lane scholarship.

But regarding the Lane-Mellen show itself ... A great deal of the exhibition's fun comes from comparing Lane’s seascapes and Mellen’s copies, hanging side by side (see below). Lane is generally crisper, more specific. Mellen is mushier and softer; her paint tends to be a bit thicker. His rigging is precise; hers is suggested. His boats float convincingly in the water; hers sit unnaturally high. But this isn't surprising when comparing a teacher and apprentice.

Fitz Henry Lane, "A Smart Blow (Rough Sea, Schooners)," 1856, Cape Ann Historical Museum.

Mary Blood Mellen, "A Smart Blow," 1850s, collection of Mary Jane and John McGlennon.

Mostly Mellen comes off as a copist – the show doesn't make it clear whether this is a full picture of her work. But Mellen’s mysterious "Moonlight, Gloucester Harbor" (above), which seems to be an original composition, is better than Lane’s nearby paintings on the same theme. Here her technique is distinguished by a folksiness that feels charming, vulnerable, human.

“Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen,” Cape Ann Historical Museum, 27 Pleasant St., Gloucester, July 7 to Sept. 16, 2007.

At top: Fitz Henry Lane, "Clipper Ship 'Sweepstakes,'" 1853, from the Museum of the City of New York, with a detail of the "Fitz Henry Lane" signature in the waves at the bottom right. At bottom, Mary Blood Mellen, "Moonlight, Gloucester Harbor," 1870s, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont (which was founded by Wilmerding's grandmother).


Post a Comment

<< Home