Robert Salmon (American/Scottish, 1775–1844), Leith Harbour [Edinburgh, Scotland]

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Robert Salmon’s painting of Leith Harbour, Edinburgh - Completed in the Year He Sailed for America

Robert Salmon (American/Scottish, 1775-1844)
Leith Harbour [Edinburgh, Scotland]
Oil on panel
Panel size: 16 1/4” x 26”
Frame size: 22 1/2” x 32”
Signed in monogram and dated lower right: RS 1828
Signed, dated and numbered on reverse: No. 599/ Painted by Robert Salmon/ 1828
Provenance: Collection of Lawrence Park
Exhibited: Robert Salmon, Lincoln, Massachusetts, De Cordova Museum, March 26-April 20, 1967, no. S.E. 307

Leith was one of Scotland’s principal ports, and was independent from the City of Edinburgh until 1920. Robert Salmon shows a variety of boats in the harbor, possibly sheltering from the storm clouds fast approaching. The round building at the edge of the harbor and painted in the left foreground is the Signal Tower, built in 1686 by Robert Mylne. Originally it was a windmill, used to extract oil from rape-seed. In 1805, the sails and domed roof were replaced with a parapet, from which flags were flown as signals to ships.
As this work makes evident, Robert Salmon was fully capable of sentiment in the best sense, of expressing his personal feelings about a place, and of capturing the particular character of what he saw before him. His ships are painted with a precision and clarity of tone that is reminiscent of the Roux family, while his sea has a distinct formality, carefully crafted and disciplined in his unique manner. However, it is his exquisite use of light illuminating this scene that makes this particular composition an extraordinarily romantic and expressive evocation of Leith Harbour.
Salmon’s painting of Leith Harbour was completed in the same year that the artist sailed from Britain to America. Born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, Robert Salmon settled in Liverpool in 1806 before moving to Greenock, Scotland in 1811. In 1828, he decided to sail for America and settled in Boston for the next thirteen years.   It was here that he achieved his greatest fame attracting pupils such as Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865). The artist brought with him a considerable number of works, with hopes for an American market for his British scenes. One hundred and eighteen paintings executed between 1826 and 1828 were sold at auction in Boston a few years later. This painting of Leith Harbour is undoubtedly one of those Salmon brought with him.
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