View of Coffin’s Beach is an evocative late work by Fitz Henry Lane in which topography and anecdote are subordinated to the delicate beauty of dawn hues breaking over the land and water. The painting is based on a sketch Lane made from Two Penny Loaf, a rocky outcropping at the northern end...
View of Coffin’s Beach is an evocative late work by Fitz Henry Lane in which topography and anecdote are subordinated to the delicate beauty of dawn hues breaking over the land and water. The painting is based on a sketch Lane made from Two Penny Loaf, a rocky outcropping at the northern end of Coffin’s Beach on Ipswich Bay in Gloucester, Massachusetts (Coffin’s Beach from the Loaf, 1862, Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts). Conservators and curators at the MFA have concluded that Lane used a camera lucida, a mechanical drawing device, to capture the shoreline with great accuracy. While the finished painting replicates the outlines of the drawing, Lane widened the composition, accentuating the horizontal format and emphasizing the expansiveness of the landscape and a sense of emptiness. Lane’s subtle blending of the glowing pink-to-blue of the early-morning sky transforms a topographical study into one of his finest landscapes. Place, though, remained important to Lane and his patrons. On the back of the canvas, the geographical location is made clear. An inscription, now clearly identified as having been written by Lane himself, reads: “View of Coffin’s beach, from the Rocks/at the Loaf, after a sketch taken, August, 1862./Presented to Dr. H. E. Davidson and lady/by the Artist.” When Lane gave him View of Coffin’s Beach, Dr. Herman E. Davidson was an eminent physician in Gloucester. He had established his practice there in 1842 and soon became an active member of the community. He served on the school committee, was vice president of the Cape Ann Horticultural Society, and was a trustee of Oak Grove Cemetery. In 1873, Davidson was a founder and first president of the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association (now the Cape Ann Museum). How he and Lane met has yet to be established, but their relationship was close: Lane stayed with Dr. Davidson and his wife Sarah in their home on Dale Avenue (now the Sawyer Free Library) in the summer of 1862, the year he sketched Coffin’s Beach. Apparently Lane had had a major misunderstanding with his brother-in-law, Ignatius Winter, who was married to Lane’s sister Sarah. The couple lived with artist, but after their disagreement Lane felt compelled to leave his own home temporarily and seek sanctuary with the Davidsons. Lane often chose to paint sites in Gloucester of historical significance, including, for example, places such as Fresh Water Cove [48.445], named for the spring Samuel de Champlain found at the site in 1606. Coffin’s Beach, named after the landowners who established a farm there in the seventeenth century, is bracketed by the Essex River on the west and the Annisquam River on the east. In 1775, during the Revolutionary War, British loyalist Captain John Linzee (or Lindsay) sent men ashore at the beach from the sloop of war Falcon to procure sheep from the Coffin farm. Peter Coffin, an ardent patriot, gathered a handful of men and took positions behind the dunes to ward off the intruders. Their relentless volley of bullets convinced the sailors that there were more men protecting the farm than there actually were. It was probably the presence of John Charles Frémont, however, rather than the Revolutionary War association, that drew Lane to Coffin’s Beach in August 1862. A renowned explorer, Frémont had been controversial as a general in the Union army. He had overreached his authority and recently had been relieved of his command; at the behest of a friend, Frémont spent the month on vacation camping at Two Penny Loaf. Lane made a drawing of the camp on the dunes (Frémont’s Encampment at the Loaf, West Gloucester, 1862, Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts) from which he produced an oil (location unknown) for Frémont’s wife Jessie. Probably around the same time, the artist completed the drawing Coffin’s Beach from the Loaf, which he used as the sketch for his painting View of Coffin’s Beach. View of Coffin’s Beach was given to the MFA by Dr. Davidson’s daughter, Alice Davidson Tilton, and is one of the few Lanes in the collection that descended in the family of the original owner. The painting came into the Museum as Ipswich Bay, but it has been recently retitled to reflect the location and inscription more accurately. Lane’s original titles most typically relate to his inscriptions. Notes 1. See Karen E. Quinn with Sandra Kelberlau and Jean Woodward, “Rediscovering Fitz Henry Lane’s View of Coffin’s Beach on Cape Ann,” Magazine Antiques, July 2006, 66–69. Karen E. Quinn
Reverse: View of Coffin's beach, from the rocks at/the Loaf, after a sketch taken, August, 1862./by Fitz H. Lane./Presented to Dr H.E. Davidson and Lady/by the Artist
About 1862, gift of the artist to Dr. Herman E. Davidson (1815-1890) and his wife, Sarah, Gloucester, Mass.; 1890, by descent to their daughter, Alice Davidson (Mrs. Barclay) Tilton, South Hamilton, Mass.; 1953, gift of Mrs. Barclay Tilton to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 1, 1953)
Gift of Mrs. Barclay Tilton in memory of Dr. Herman E. Davidson