|Fort Scammel and Fort Gorges, Maine
|Seth Eastman ( 1808 - 1875 )
|Oil on canvas
|h. 24.63 x w. 35.63 in. (h. 62.5 x w. 90.5 cm)
|U.S. Senate Collection
Following the War of 1812, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed that a fort be built on Hog Island Ledge, in Casco Bay at the entrance to the harbor at Portland, Maine. Named for the colonial proprietor of Maine, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, it was constructed to support existing forts, including Fort Scammel built on nearby House Island in 1808. Congress, however, did not fund construction of Fort Gorges until 1857. The walls of the fort were begun the next year, and when the Civil War broke out in 1861, work quickly advanced. It was completed in 1865 as the war ended, a granite reminder of what might have been. A modernization plan was begun in 1869, but funding was cut off in 1876, with the third level of the fort still unfinished. Seth Eastman painted his canvas during this final phase.
Eastman gave Fort Scammel and Fort Gorges equal emphasis in his sweeping view. On the distant waters of the bay, the viewer glimpses the activity of sailboats and a steamboat, as well as construction cranes behind both forts. This painting is unusually complex among the works in the series, in both design elements and narrative implications. For example, the large pier at the lower right, its pilings, and the rock and piling at the center are strongly drawn and tightly composed. The pier is animated by 11 figures, standing or seated, who have gathered there. Eastman conveys the specifics of place with attention to the dress and posture of the figures and the structure and age of the pier. The lounging atmosphere, the casual note of the ladder leaning against the small shed at the right, and the motionless boat with inactive occupants at the left all suggest a backwater where time stands still. Again, Eastman seems to compare the foreground idleness with the idleness of the forts and with dreams of battles never fought. The mood is greatly enhanced by the large sky, with a variety of cloud formations tranquilly painted in pale gray tints.