In this eerie nighttime scene, a full moon hanging low in the sky illuminates the placid waters of a harbour, whose ships remain shrouded in darkness. This painting illustrates Bannister’s interest in capturing natural light at different times of the day, as well as his love of the sea—the result of living his entire life by the water, in both Canada and the United States. Yet there is also an undeniable bleakness to this image—a sense of foreboding that may allude to intensified racial tensions in Boston after the Civil War (1861–65). This tumultuous climate was likely a factor in Bannister and his wife’s decision to relocate to Providence the following year.
Edward Mitchell Bannister, Untitled (moon over a harbor, wharf scene with full moon and masts of boats), c.1868
Oil on fibreboard, 24.5 x 38.7 cm, Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, Gift of H. Alan and Melvin Frank (1983.95.76).