Cancer struck Thomas Hoyne in 1972, when he was 48. He was given two years to live. A well-known magazine and advertising illustrator, he left his career behind and took up his marine artist’s brushes for good, intent on painting “the great sail-driven vessels” of the Grand Banks while he still had the time.
During the next 17 years, until his death in 1989 (doctors, be damned), the self-taught Hoyne created around 100 paintings depicting, with a mixture of exacting detail and compelling atmosphere, the lives of 19th- and early-20th-century New England fishermen.
The work Handliners is a fine example of his style. Two dorymen are fishing with a handline—a laborious method that was believed to catch better-quality fish than trawling methods, so much so that handlined fish brought a better price at market. Hoyne’s paintings often show men harvesting the sea in ships and small boats, including schooners, pinkies, knockabouts and steamers, dories and seine boats.
In this 24 x 36 oil, the vessel in the background is the Susan R. Stone that was built in Essex, Massachusetts, at the A.D. Story yard and launched in 1888. A fast sailer on the Grand Banks fishing grounds, she foundered in 1897 with the loss of all hands. Hoyne, a founding fellow of the American Society of Marine Artists, believed in accuracy. He commissioned modeler Erik A.R. Ronnberg to fashion a pinky schooner as a study, and sometimes posed himself in working clothes such as a sou’wester and boots.
“Hoyne’s paintings are pure realism, but underlying the simple images is the powerful recall of a heroic period in the history of America,” wrote Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley in their book, Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The Maritime Art of Thomas Hoyne. “[It is] realism through which shines the indomitable human spirit of seamen who loved their calling as they loved life itself.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue.