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Lane, Owl's Head, Penobscot Bay, Maine

Fitz Henry Lane, Owl's Head, Penobscot Bay, Maine, 1862, oil on canvas, 40 x 66.36 cm / 15-3/4 x 26-1/8 inches (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Sirah
    i love you guys this is where i live. ! and i knew about that already i know my states history.
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Is there anywhere left on this big blue planet that is as untouched and as serene as America was in the 1800's and before?
    (1 vote)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Lauren Swalec
      I agree with Nate - Alaska seems like a good bet. To find a place that is 'untouched' and 'serene' you need a place where people have not moved. A good chunk of Maine is wicked rural and trees outnumber people by far - however there are logging operations in much of these areas, so they may not qualify as 'untouched.' Out in the west and mid-west I believe there are some very rural places - but one must be careful to avoid cattle ranching and fracking operations. So I'd have to agree with Nate - if you want somewhere that is both 'serene' and 'untouched,' you'd have to go to Alaska.

      However, if you'd like a mostly 'serene' and 'untouched' area of Maine, I'd suggest the parks - Acadia National Park makes up the majority of a large island on the coast (and so would be rather like this painting), and Baxter State Park is a huge chunk of land (including forests and mountains) smack in the middle of the state.
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

(piano music) Man: We're in the museum of Fine Arts in Boston looking at Fitz Henry Lane's Owl's Head Penobscot Bay, Maine. This is the place that Lane spent a good deal of time and characteristic of this American artist, sometimes called a luminist. We have this wonderfully quiet still moment. Woman: And that's what we mean by the term luminism. Landscape paintings by a number of American painters where we have a sense of calm and tranquility, views of water. A quality of light that allows each element of the landscape to stand out in perfect clarity but there is an overall mood of contemplativeness and peacefullness. Man: It's so typical of American art, especially American marine painting. So this is dawn. We can see the peach sky in the background and the water is still calm. The winds of the day have not started. The ship in the background just put up its sails and is trying to catch whatever breeze is just beginning. We look out on this space almost through the gaze of the fisherman we see in the lower left of the canvas. Woman: This is very much a romantic landscape. One that looks back to the traditions of romanticism. We might think about Caspar David Freidrich and the way he uses figures. Looking out to sea with their backs to us. Or we might even think about John Constable in England painting his native landscape of the Store Valley with that sense of love of his native landscape. I think that we have that here with Lane. Man: There is a way that light is able to take the careful rendering of the veracity that all of this detail and clarity offers us. Man: But still render a painting that is largely poetic. And that's really one of the issues that is most central to luminism that even with this high pitched specificity there is still room for a painting that is ultimately one that is emotional, that is almost transcendental. Woman: I think that sense of emotion comes through because of the lack of narrative incident. We're looking at a seascape but we don't see fisherman busy with activities. We don't see ships coming in and unloading cargo or other kind of narratives scenes that we might expect in a harbor. Man: Light is the main protagonist, not the human occupation of the space. Woman: In a way for me the main protagonist is the house that we see on that tiny little island, and that, as you said, peach-colored light, that we all know so well from looking at the water in the early morning. We're really transported to this place. I can almost hear the water lapping at the shore. Man: This painting invites a kind of careful, quiet, contemplation. Woman: It's very different from other American landscape painting that we might think of by Albert Bierstadt or Frederic Church that is really grand and operatic and sublime. It says something big and those paintings are often very large and depict sublime scenes like the Rocky Mountains or Niagara Falls, but here this kind of humble, quiet scene, a kind of different strain in American landscape painting. (piano music)