|Fort Knox, Maine
|Seth Eastman ( 1808 - 1875 )
|Oil on canvas
|h. 24.25 x w. 35.5 in. (h. 61.6 x w. 90.2 cm)
|U.S. Senate Collection
Maine was repeatedly involved in northeast border disputes with British Canada, and the area between Castine and the rich lumber city of Bangor was invaded and occupied by the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Despite the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, which adjusted the boundary to avert the possibility of war, Fort Knox was established in 1844 to protect the Penobscot River valley against a possible future British naval incursion. Named for Major General Henry Knox, America’s first secretary of war and a native of Maine, the fort garrisoned troops from 1863 to 1866, and again in 1898, but never saw military action.
As is customary with Seth Eastman, a quiet, subtle skill is at work here. He adjusts his tonal palette to convincingly construct both the situation of the fort and the other objects within the space. The fort–-a complex geometric structure–-is in good repair, yet no human is visible in or on the fort. There is a sense of abandonment reflective of the fort’s history. The sailboat and rowboat, whose occupants are observers of this little-used remnant of the nation’s military past, heighten the mood. Eastman was aware that the fort had little history–-no real story to tell–-and he cleanly and matter-of-factly embeds the granite structure in the Maine landscape.