DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
CLEMENT DREW (American, 1807-1889)
Morning off Boston Light, 1879
Oil on canvas
7 x 10 inches (17.8 x 25.4 cm)
Signed, dated, and inscribed verso: 1879 / Morning off Boston Light / by C Drew
Frost & Adams, nos. 33 and 35, Cornhill, Boston (label on back of right stretcher);
with private New York dealer, 1980, from whom acquired by Kenneth Lux;
Purchased from Kenneth Lux, New York, March 17, 1981.
In building his collection of American nineteenth-century painting, Paul Buchanan was just as inclined to purchase high-quality works by lesser-known artists as by luminaries. In fact, finding a gem like this golden morning view of Boston Light by Massachusetts painter, Clement Drew, became a considerable source of pride to him. He relished the thought that with study, a good network of trusted dealers, and some luck, he could own a core of some of the finest examples by American "little masters," as he liked to call them. Morning off Boston Light was one of the Judge's prizes among these little masters. He displayed it strategically near the foot of the grand stair in his home where he would pass it once every morning and once every evening, at the very least.
Well-known in his day for his scenes of New England's coast and harbors, and for his portraits of ships, Drew worked for most of his life in Boston (1827 to 1880). After beginning his career painting scenes of Boston's south shore at Nantasket and Minot's Light near Cohasset, Drew traveled further afield to portray marine subjects at Newport, Gloucester, Nahant, Marblehead, and in Maine near Mount Desert. He also painted a number of compositions bearing more exotic locales in their titles including Cape Horn and Port Jackson, Australia. While he is recorded as having traveled quite extensively from Maine to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, to Cape Horn and then eventually to San Francisco, much of his biography remains rather sketchy, and the extent of his travel in international waters unclear. Certainly the Cape Horn subjects and the ship portraits whose titles describe them as being in the North Atlantic or off the coast of England are, virtually without exception, topographically unspecific. They usually show vessels on generic storm-tossed waters and appear formulaic when compared with the carefully observed scenes such as this of his native New England. Notwithstanding, Drew's choice to specialize in marine paintings which include a variety of carefully described boats points to a personal familiarity with sailing, and a clientele among ship owners. The present work, for example, depicts most prominently a two-masted square rigger at anchor with its sails down and drying. This small merchant brig was used in long-haul trading. In the middle distance is another with its sails up, while at left and in the far distance are schooners.
Drew held many jobs in addition to painting throughout the course of his life. After moving from his native Kingston to Boston in 1927 to pursue an artistic career, he worked in a dry goods store, a library and as a carpet salesman. In 1846, the artist opened a store in Boston as an art dealer, framer and purveyor of artists' supplies. A son George H. (born 1833) also became a painter, worked with his father as of 1863, and also achieved some note as a photographer. Later in life Clement Drew joined forces with William Lloyd Garrison in the fight to abolish slavery.
This particular view off Boston Light was a favorite subject of Drew's - and doubtless his patrons - for he painted a number of versions of it at different times of day, and always with a slightly different cast and disposition of sailing vessels. A larger version dated 1888, with a cool rather than luminous palette, was sold at Barridorff Galleries, August 5, 2005, lot 201. An undated version the same size as the present work but with a quieter sky sold at Robert C. Eldred Auctions, July 30, 1998, lot 480, while a moonlit view of 1884 sold through Skinner, November 4, 2007, lot 633.
The present painting is one of the most luminous in Drew's known oeuvre. Indeed, its extremely subtle and poetic handling of light belongs firmly within the genre of American harbor views known as "Luminism," which is a term that was coined during the 1950s and coincided with the rediscovery of the glowing marine paintings of Fitz High Lane. As a former Navy man, Judge Buchanan had a particular fondness for seascapes, and held a fervent wish to one day own a work by Lane, whom he considered the apogee of the genre. While that never came to be, Buchanan cherished this work by Drew both for its inherent beauty and as the closest he had ever come to that goal.
Drew's paintings are in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland; Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Maine; and the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia.
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