Lionel Lemoine FitzGerald
1890 - 1956
CGP G7 MSA
Lionel Lemoine FitzGerald was born in Winnipeg in 1890 and the Manitoba prairie was his seminal inspiration throughout his career. FitzGerald began to draw as a young man, taking pencil to paper in order to alleviate the boredom of his job at a wholesale drugstore. In 1908 he rented a studio with painter Nigel Wigston of A.S. Keszthelyi’s School of Fine Arts, where FitzGerald would himself enroll the following year. In 1910 he traveled to Chicago and visited the Art Institute. Upon his return to Winnipeg he exhibited at the Public Library in a show sponsored by the Women’s Art Association and worked as a commercial artist in the display department of T. Eaton Co. Ltd., a job he detested.
The year 1913 was a pivotal one in Winnipeg. FitzGerald exhibited a landscape with the Royal Canadian Academy, and both the Winnipeg School of Art and the Winnipeg Museum of Fine Arts (now the Winnipeg Art Gallery) opened. Also that year, the Winnipeg branch of Brigden’s Limited was established and became a steady employer of Winnipeg-based artists. Additionally in 1913, watercolourist and printmaker Walter J. Phillips and wood engraver Henry Bergman would move to Winnipeg.
FitzGerald’s work is characterized by fine detail, dots and cross hatching in his drawings, and tiny brush-strokes in his paintings. His work would grow increasingly spare and abstract over the course of his career. In 1918 the National Gallery of Canada would acquire Late Fall, Manitoba. After his first one-man exhibition in 1921 he studied in New York at the Art Students League with Boardman Robinson and Kenneth Hayes Miller. In 1924 he began to teach at the Winnipeg School of Art. A respected and influential teacher, he would be appointed principal in 1929, and teach there for 25 years.
In 1928 the Arts and Letters Club held an exhibition of his work organized by Group of Seven founding member J.E.H. MacDonald. Ironically, FitzGerald would replace MacDonald in the Group after his death in 1932. He would then go on to become a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters in 1933.
FitzGerald’s artistic peers also included the printmaker Fritz Brandtner who would move to Winnipeg in 1928, and in 1929 he met Bertram Brooker, with whom he would have a long association. That same year he would have a show at Dent’s Publishing House in Toronto, which brought his art to a much wider audience. FitzGerald was a painstaking artist, working in meticulous detail on finely executed works of simple palette and composition. Each work took countless hours to execute, and his paintings of backyards, apples, branches, ponds and trees are notable both for his highly simplified composition as well as his spare and precise approach to applying paint. His drawings and watercolours can best be described as esoteric pointillism. His modernist approach and the solitary, quiet nature of his works place them apart from the mainstream of art that was happening around him. While Winnipeg was always his home base, he traveled repeatedly to the West Coast in the 1940s, where he executed a series of sensitive and expansive studies of trees and beach scenes.
FitzGerald was given an honorary LL.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1952. His life and work were the subject of a memorial exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 1958, a retrospective at the Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario in 1962, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1963, the School of Art of the University of Manitoba in 1977, the Edmonton Art Gallery in 1982 and in 1994 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The School of Art building at the University of Manitoba was named the FitzGerald Building in his honor in 1977, and the FitzGerald Study Centre contains his archive and supports the study of his work. Additionally, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a gold coin honoring his work Houses, in 2003.