Boston: Waiting for the Dawn


This painting is based on Union Wharf, where John Stobart lives. It was also the place of residence of the prominent marine artist Robert Salmon, who was born in England in 1775. About the end of December, 1828, Salmon came to Boston. He remained in America until 1840 and died in Europe in 1845. Enjoying spectacular views of Boston Harbor, the location is ideal for a marine artist's studio. Every ship that enters or leaves Boston Harbor passes Union Wharf, so it is, in fact, a perfect vantage point to study ships from any angle and in all light.

Looking toward East Boston, where the renowned Donald McKay built his great clipper ships, this view shows a Down-Easter waiting for a favorable tide to leave port. This small subject incorporates a variety of the kinds of elements that help to make a successful marine composition: overlapping silhouettes of wharf pilings, a distant shore, and vessels of different types. The principal effect, however, is derived from the contrast of cold moonlight, top-lighting all the silhouetted buildings, with pools of warm gas light picking out the area of activity.

One of the initial decisions which has to be made prior to commencing work on a painting is establishing the canvas size. In this particular instance I found that I would have preferred that I'd selected a larger format. Confining a busy complex subject to a small format has the tendency to minimize the vigor in the brushstrokes, lessening the vital “quality of paint” in favor of a concentration on detail. In this case a balance was achieved despite the canvas's minimal size, both elements being apparent.

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