Robert Salmon moved to Boston from England in 1828 and soon established himself as one of the earliest and most accomplished marine painters in the city. His first critical success was a series of paintings from 1828 to 1829 that depicted the naval battle of Algiers. This ambitious project, which consisted of three paintings, each over fifteen feet in length depicting the course of the battle, cemented Salmon's reputation in America.
Although best known as a marine painter, Salmon also painted a small number of scenes depicting fires in Boston of which A Fire in Boston by Moonlight is exemplary. One of only two known nocturnes from this group, A Fire in Boston by Moonlight manifests the artist's acclaimed ability to imbue his paintings with beauty and drama as he transforms an urban disaster into a mesmerizing scene.