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No. 8, Before the Paint: A Marine Artist’s Sketchbook

My affinity for the more obscure and difficult-to-exhibit artifacts leads me to show you not any finished, framed masterpieces (of which we have many), but something more ephemeral: a few pages from the sketchbooks of Belfast, Maine artist Percy Sanborn (1849-1929).

Sanborn’s eloquent and substantial ship portraits of numerous well known vessels have assured his reputation as a regional marine artist of note, but these rarely, if ever, seen preliminary studies of coastal shipping and landscapes have a unique, if fragile, charm all their own.

Almost entirely of pencil studies, these small (3″ x6″) lightly bound booklets are of a size to fit easily into a pocket, and so contain sketches of scenes, color, light and composition that were undoubtedly done on the spot, to be worked up more formally in the studio, or perhaps never.

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In another only slightly larger notebook, Sanborn followed his ideas to more completed compositions. One example:

 

 

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Sanborn was a meticulous observer of detail for his ship portraits. Another little notebook entitled “Foots and Leeches” contains page after page of named vessels with sail proportions carefully blocked out.

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From these minute reference notebooks, he expanded to the full-size ship portraits, using the paintbox and palette below.

Ironically, I cannot show you a finished Percy Sanborn ship portrait, for there are none in our collections.

Let me know if you stopped by down here!
Thanks,
Chris Hall, Registrar

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Maine Maritime Museum