Prairie Prestige Digital Collections

Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald

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View the Winnipeg Art Gallery Archives' digitized material
Read the Winnipeg Art Gallery Archives' fonds description

 L.L. FitzGerald (UMASC - PC 241, A.09-16, Box 1, Fd. 1, Item 16)

Born in Winnipeg in 1890, and despite trips to the west coast, Mexico, and the U.S., FitzGerald remained rooted in Manitoba all his life. He showed an interest in art as a teenager, but began painting seriously in 1912 and exhibited the following year with the Royal Canadian Academy in Winnipeg and Montreal. He studied in New York at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Boardman Robinson, where he was taught the value of colour, balance, form and design —the underlying structure to all his subsequent paintings. Visits to the Chicago Institute of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York further solidified his interest in the classic modernism of Seurat and Cézanne.  FitzGerald’s first solo exhibition was at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1921, where he exhibited Prairie landscape paintings. In 1927, he gave 12 lectures on the history of Russian art, including non-objectivism and Russian Suprematism.

L.L. FitzGerald (UMASC - PC 241, A.09-16, Box 1, Fd. 1, Item 16)

He continued exploring Realism and Naturalism in landscapes and cityscapes, such as Pritchard’s Fence (1928) and Poplar Wood (1929).  These works are strong compositions with an illustrative quality, balanced by convincing shapes and muted tones. Fitzgerald took this careful balance of colour and shape even further in Doc Snyder’s House (1931), which took him over two years to complete, in part because of his painstaking method of execution.

He joined as the last member of the Group of Seven in 1932, after his friend and fellow Manitoban, Bertram Brooker, had shown his work to Lawren Harris.  FitzGerald believed in the validity of the Canadian landscape and in the centrality of nature in art, and was one of the few Group of Seven members to depict the Prairies. However, being very individualistic, he did not share the Group’s land-based nationalism. He exhibited with them for three years and enjoyed the meeting of “kindred souls” and the resurgence and new interpretations and of landscape as a subject.

FitzGerald’s work became more abstract beginning as early as the 1940s, when he began concentrating solely on the abstraction of form and the relationship of objects to their surroundings and the organization of space, as seen in Abstract Landscape (1942) and Driftwood Forms (1943). In the late 1940s he did several still lifes, including Little Plant (1947) and From an Upstairs Window (1948), a view from his home at 160 Lyle Street. In 1950, FitzGerald experimented with a more decorative and Pointillist technique in self-portraits, nudes, and still lifes. He did several “total” abstractions of still lifes and landscapes, culminating with perhaps his most famous, Untitled (Abstract: Green and Gold) (1954), which is stripped down to a design of intersecting planes and forms. But even during this most minimalistic phase, art historian and curator Michael Parke-Taylor writes about how the colours reference the Prairie landscape, the starting point for many of FitzGerald’s works (Michael Parke-Taylor, In seclusion with nature: the later works of L. Lemoine Fitzgerald, 1942-1956, p. 35).  His entire body of work is distinguished by a painstaking, original way of handling brush, pen, pencil, crayon, and paintbrush to get his own look and texture.

FitzGerald was an instructor at the Winnipeg School of Art, (located at what is now the Old Law Courts Building on Kennedy Street) from 1922 to 1924, eventually becoming principal from 1924 to 1949. He continued to practice art, fitting it in outside the hours of a demanding schedule of teaching and administration. The School of Art is now located at the University of Manitoba in a building bearing FitzGerald’s name. He was awarded an Honorary LL.D from the university in 1952.

A year after his death in 1956, the Winnipeg Art Gallery opened a small memorial exhibition of his work and created the FitzGerald Memorial Room. In 1958, this expanded into a large retrospective exhibition held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which also travelled to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, with more retrospectives following in 1963 and 1988. Gallery 1.1.1. at the University of Manitoba has held several major exhibitions, including the first complete exhibition of FitzGerald’s printed works in 1982. More recently, in 2009, the FitzGerald in Context exhibition displayed artifacts of FitzGerald’s life alongside significant works of art from the National Gallery of Canada, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the University of Manitoba’s collection. His works are held in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the McMichael Collection, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Winnipeg School of Art brochure, 1933-1934 (WAG - FitzGerald-PH9.7.17C)
Winnipeg School of Art brochure, 1933-1934 (WAG - FitzGerald-PH9.7.17C)

It is interesting to note that in recognition of FitzGerald’s importance and contribution to Winnipeg, Arnold O. Brigden sought and achieved through the Historic Sites Committee of St. James, a memorial boulder with a plaque in Bruce Park. Also in the park one finds “FitzGerald’s Walk,” another commemoration of this great Winnipeg artist.  

 

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