An unknown early childhood disease left the legs of young Nathaniel Roger Lane permanently paralyzed. Because of this he did not enjoy the wild and rambunctious play of his peers, and would instead find amusement through drawing everything he saw around him. This is the beginning of the life of the painter who would come to be known as Fitz Henry Lane.
Why he chose to change his name remains a mystery, but at some point around 1831 he began the formal process, and never actually wrote out the entire name afterward. This accounts for the confusion over the middle name, which was officially Henry and not the common, and mistaken, Hugh.
Born in 1804 in the seaside town of Gloucester, Massachusetts Lane would not receive any formal art training until he began working in the lithography shop of William S. Pendleton in the 1830s. He quickly acquired the skills necessary for a successful career in lithography, managing to have his work first commercially work reproduced as early as 1832.
It was also during this time that Lane befriended the marine painter Robert Salmon who would soon become a major influence in his life and art. Both men began their employment with Pendleton's at about the same time, and Salmon had all ready acquired a great deal of skill as a marine painter.
During the 1840s the lithography shop was closed, and Lane worked with a partner to open his own. He began to devote a great deal of time to his painting and drawing and would soon refer to himself publicly as a marine painter. The skills he had developed through lithography - specifically the precise skills of draftsmen and the necessary skills of colorists would also play a major role in his painting.
His paintings found an almost immediate audience in the merchants and mariners of the Boston, Gloucester and New York areas. He was painting in a style of his own, but one that would eventually come to be called "Luminism" for its effective use of light in the landscape, especially the soft and hazy qualities of light reflected off water. Additionally, the fine detail of his work only added to its popular appeal.
The subject matter of Lane's paintings frequently include pastoral scenes up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States as well as many formal ship portraits and harbor scenes.
Lane held a reputation as one of the country's finest painters during his lifetime, but with the popularity of Impressionism, which steered away from the precision of Realists such as Lane, his work fell into decline. The 1930s however would see resurgence in his popularity and his works are now in the collections of both public and private institutions.