August 26, 2007

Those who can, teach

"Fitz Henry Lane & Mary Blood Mellen: Old Mysteries and New Discoveries," curated by John Wilmerding. Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, MA. Through Sept. 16.

Cate McQuaid reports in the Boston Globe: "A fascinating and provocative exhibit at the Cape Ann Historical Museum that compels viewers to compare works by Lane, a master of the luminous seascape, and Mellen, his student, assistant, Gloucester neighbor, and sometime collaborator....The question of Mellen's participation in Lane's painting process is intriguing. Artists have worked with assistants and apprentices for centuries; often a canvas coming out of the studio of Rubens or Bellini, say, may have had the artist's signature, but was the handiwork, in part, of an assistant....Wilmerding puts works by Lane and Mellen side by side to elucidate their techniques. Often Mellen copied directly from Lane, so the canvases appear to be twins. Mellen, the childless wife of a minister, had studied art in school. Working with Lane, she proved to be deft and light-handed, a very good painter with a penchant for yellows." Read more.

In the Boston Phoenix, Greg Cook explains the confusion over Fitz Hugh Lane's name correction to Fitz Henry Lane, and suggests that the error raises doubts about other FHL scholarship: "The discovery that we’ve had Lane’s name wrong since at least 1913 has prompted questions about what else scholars have gotten wrong about him. Notably what Wilmerding has gotten wrong. He is part of a handful of scholars (others include Barbara Novak and Theodore Stebbins Jr.) who’ve been credited with pioneering scholarship of 19th-century American art. Wilmerding’s 'find' was Lane, one of several artists who had fallen into obscurity with the rise of French Impressionism and Modern art. Lane’s work now commands top prices — Skinner Auctioneers in Boston got $5.5 million for Manchester Harbor back in November 2004....In 2003, the Cape Ann Historical Museum acquired a pair of portraits that were attributed to Lane and said to depict Joseph Stevens and his wife. Wilmerding had written to a previous owner: 'Short of a firsthand look the portrait does indeed seem to be from Lane’s hand. While it is cruder than his familiar marine scenes, it is very much like the few known portraits that he did do.' But a photo of Stevens has turned up that doesn’t resemble the man in the painting. And infrared scans by Cleveland Museum of Art conservator Marcia Steele find 'very minimal, if any underdrawing.' Lane usually made 'extensive underdrawing in his paintings. He was meticulous.' This doesn’t prove that the portraits aren’t by Lane — perhaps he used a different technique for his rare portraits — but it raises doubts." Read more.

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