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July 30: Brace’s Cove

Brace’s Cove oil on canvas 10×15″ 1864


The iconic Luminist Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-65) did a lot of rather prosaic views of the sea and ships; a number of breathtakingly delicate works of the same subject, very much in the spirit of the 17th Century Dutch sea painters, and equal to them in formal command; and then a few startlingly un-Ninteenth-Century-seeming pieces like Brace’s Cove, with its astonishing sense of quiet and light, and boldness of composition.

Representational paintings are generally organized around a few strong shapes, but rarely in such a commanding and undisguised way. This is not a work of passive observation. It’s full of artifice. Light touches in some places but not in others close by. Lane keeps the shapes connected by such devices as the bushes left and right that soften the silhouettes of the rocks and mingle foreground and distance. The ribs of the boat perform the same function; the sagging mast is a giant stitch from the dark foreground all the way to the light sky. The loopy wavelets carry the eye from the center to the right side and then back to the center again, and interweave the right-side promontory with the reflection of the orange rock.

No doubt Brace’s Cove looked more or less like this, but never at any one moment. Lane is the visionary, and completely the boss.


This post is a reprise of 8/20/11