Skip to main content

Atlantic Light

March 2023
1min read

Fitz Hugh Lane’s seemingly traditional harbor scenes are now considered pioneering works of a unique artistic movement

Among the forgotten artists of the nineteenth century enthusiastically taken up by our own, few are as remarkable as Fitz Hugh Lane. Born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1804, the son of a sailmaker, he was crippled at the age of eighteen months, probably by polio, although his contemporaries believed he had been poisoned by an apple of Peru—what we could call a tomato. For the rest of his life, Lane could walk only with the help of crutches.

From an early age Lane showed a talent for drawing, but his first job was as a shoemaker. “After a while,” as a nephew described it, “seeing that he could draw pictures better than he could make shoes, he went to Boston and took lessons in drawing and painting and became a marine artist. …”

Those lessons were not much by today’s standards; what Lane did was to find work at a lithographer’s workshop and learn whatever he could from the other artists employed there. He also seems to have studied paintings by Robert Salmon, an English marine artist working in Boston in the 1830s. Over the next thirty years Lane produced accurate scenes of ships and waterfronts, gradually earning respect along the New England coast—his corner of the already circumscribed world of marine painting. After his death in 1865, fashions in art favored realists and impressionists, and Lane passed out of vogue.

But lately the art world has been reexamining Lane’s paintings. By the end of his career, although Lane was still painting ships, his real subjects were storms, sunsets, the elusive properties of light. Scholars now consider this self-taught artist a pioneer in the movement known as luminism—the final, glorious flowering of the Hudson River school. Sixty of Lane’s most serene masterpieces will be on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., until September 5, when they will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "July/August 1988"

Authored by: Fredric Smoler

Gallows Humor from the First October Catastrophe

Authored by: The Editors

Two Hundred and Twenty-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

One Hundred and Twenty-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

One Hundred Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

Seventy-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

Twenty-five Years Ago

Authored by: The Editors

Fitz Hugh Lane’s seemingly traditional harbor scenes are now considered pioneering works of a unique artistic movement

Authored by: Edward Hoagland

He lived alone for two years in a small cabin on Walden Pond, but he was neither misanthropic nor solitary. Perhaps more than any other American writer, he can teach us how to live with ourselves.

Authored by: Fredric Smoler

A lifelong student of military history and affairs says that nuclear weapons have made the idea of war absurd. And it is precisely when everyone agrees that war is absurd that one gets started.

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.