“We can only develop an understanding of the great forces behind the organization of nature by endlessly searching the outer manifestations. And we can only know ourselves better and still better by this search. There is an indefinable solidity that penetrates the work and a fine humility comes through the enlarged vision of the eternal wonders that surround us.”
(L.L. FitzGerald, 1942)
L.L. (Lionel LeMoine) FitzGerald was an accomplished draftsman, painter, printmaker and art educator. His subjects arose from his detailed observations of nature in Winnipeg and Manitoba, where he worked throughout his life.
FitzGerald took evening classes at A.S. Kesztheyli’s Art School in 1909, and from 1912 he found employment designing window displays, interior decorating, and painting theatre backdrops. From 1913 he exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and held his first solo exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1921. Feeling the need for more training, he travelled to New York to study at the Art Students League with the Canadian-born artist Boardman Robinson and with Kenneth Hayes Miller during the winter of 1921-22.
Returning to Winnipeg, he worked in commercial design and became assistant to G. Keith Gebhardt, Principal of the Winnipeg School of Art in 1924, before his own appointment as Principal (1929-49). Since teaching made considerable demands on his time, his art developed slowly and methodically. Drawing the Manitoba landscape was as important as painting, and he exhibited primarily in Winnipeg and Toronto.
Following an exhibition of his work in Toronto in 1928, FitzGerald was invited to exhibit with the Group of Seven. He became a member in 1932, just before the Group’s expansion into the Canadian Group of Painters, of which FitzGerald was a charter member.
In 1942 FitzGerald first sketched on the West Coast, where he would return during the winters of 1947 and 1948.
Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he received his education. At the age of 14 he went to work in a wholesale drug office. He also worked in an engraver’s plant and in a stockbroker’s office until he was 22. All this time he had also attended art classes, nights, at A.S. Kesztheli’s Art School in Wpg. (1909-12). About 1912 he went into the field of art full time. He married Vally Wright and they had two children, Edward and Patricia. Working in many branches of art to support his family, he did everything from decorating windows to painting scenery. During this time he was developing successfully in his easel painting and exhibiting with the RCA between 1912 and 1925. His work was then strongly influenced by French Impressionists but was Canadian in subject matter. He held his first solo show in 1921 at the WAG. Earlier that year he had completed studies at the ASL/NY under Boardman Robinson and Kenneth Hayes Miller. In 1924 he joined the staff of the Winnipeg School of Art and four years later became its principal. Of this period William Colgate in his Canadian Art (1943) noted, “. . . he returned to Winnipeg to teach in its art school. In spite of his necessary preoccupation with teaching, he has steadily pursued his bent as a landscape painter and has occasionally been represented in more important exhibitions of Winnipeg, Toronto and elsewhere . . . .” Writing about his work Donald Buchanan noted, “. . . Fitzgerald . . . worked too slowly and painstakingly ever to be affected by such vagaries of fashion . . . painted little, and that little with precise care. Most of his year was given over to his duties as principal of the Winnipeg School of Art. The relatively few water-colours and oils he did of the prairie or of the thin tracery of trees along the edges of Manitoba streams were, however, always much admired, as were also his more numerous drawings . . . .” Fitzgerald had been appointed Principal of the WSA in August of 1929. In the summer of 1929 he also met Bertram Brooker, artist, broadcaster and playwright, visiting his native Winnipeg on a business trip. The two artists then kept in contact with one another by letter. Fitzgerald had a profound influence on Brooker’s direction in art. Brooker turned from total abstraction to realism. Fitzgerald himself had moved to a greater stylization of his work. In 1929 F.B. Housser wrote, “His work is rarely seen in eastern galleries. A few years ago his canvases were among the most popular exhibited in Winnipeg but a change of direction along more modern lines carried him ahead of the public and consequently into greater obscurity . . . . He works in oils and black-and-white and has also done mural painting, having executed a decorative scheme for a room in the St. Charles Hotel, Winnipeg.” This change was to lead him into the ranks of the Group of Seven, the last member, in 1932, replacing J.E.H. MacDonald had who had died earlier that year. Fitzgerald’s work took on more design, his trees became less detailed while at the same time his development of scenes from his house or his backyard began to appear; these were more meticulous, although never cluttered by detail. In 1933 he became a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters which grew out of the Group of Seven when it disbanded the same year. By the late 1940’s and 1950’s he had returned to the style of the Impressionists, particularly reminiscent of one of its later members, Georges Seurat, although there is no evidence to suggest that he actually studied Seurat’s work. It was said of him, “A painter of the prairies, he was nevertheless a quiet man, the antithesis of the robustness sometimes associated with the West . . . .” He made impressive graphics which included wood engravings, drypoints, and was especially successful with his linocuts. His drawings were always superb. He did abstract and semi-abstract work in the 1950’s and had done a few in the late 1930’s. Some of his pen and ink drawings were done by making tiny flecks or short strokes to form an outline of his subjects. The NGC in Ottawa has one of the finest collections of his work due to prudent purchases by its curators, singular gifts from benefactors from time to time, and the large and magnificent bequest of the Douglas M. Duncan Collection made through Duncan’s sister Mrs. J.P. Barwick. A few of his outstanding works in the NGC include: Oils – William’s Garage (1927), Garage and House (1928), Doc Snyder’s House (1931), Still-life w/Green Cup (c. 1948), Farmyard (1931); From an Upstairs Window, Winter (1950/51); Water Colours – Late Fall, Manitoba (1917), Barn with Trees and Tree Stumps (1935), Landscape with House (1947), Campbell’s House (1950), Two Apples (1956); Pen & Ink – Apple and Cloth (1947), Hat and Apple (c. 1955), Long Abstract (1955); Wood Engraving – Chaff Stacks, No. 1 (1933); Linocuts – Harvest Season (1935/7), Branches (1935/37), Rooftops and Trees (1935/37), View from Window with Potted Plant (c. 1939); Drawings – Chicken Coop (1928), Tree and Door (1934), Clouds (1935), Backyard (1936), Tree Trunk and Bridge (1936), Barrow Wheel (c. 1925), Big Tree (1950). His solo shows included: WAG (1921) (1951) (1958) (1963); Toronto, gal. not listed (1926). He was awarded an Honorary LL.D., at the U. of Manitoba (1952). In 1956 at the age of 66, he died of a heart attack. His ashes were scattered over the area of Snowflake, Manitoba, where he spent his youth during his summer holidays on his grandmother’s farm. In April of 1958 four galleries collaborated in a memorial exhibition at the NGC. The exhibition then went on tour. In May of 1963 an exhibition of 128 of his works titled, A New Fitzgerald, was shown at the WAG. The show included portraits, animal sketches, landscapes and a number of nudes. Affiliations: WSC, Wpg. (1920-37); MSA (1926); Group of Seven (1932-33); CGP (fdr-mbr, 1933). He travelled to Chicago in 1910; in the U.S. and central Canada (1930) (1938); Vancouver and Bowen Island, B.C. (1942-44) (1947-49); Mexico (1952). In the Winnipeg suburb of St. James where he lived most of his life, the community named a lane Fitzgerald’s Walk in his memory. Besides the NGC, he is represented in WAG; AGO; HH, U. of T; Queen’s U. AEAC; MMFA, elsewhere.
Colin S. MacDonald
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada
Art Students League, New York
Left school at 14 and worked at a wholesale drug office, as well as an engraver’s plant and in a stockbroker’s office. Working in many branches of art, he did everything from window decoration to scenery painting.
Worked in commercial design and became assistant to G. Keith Gebhardt, Principal of the Winnipeg School of Art in 1924, before his own appointment as Principal (1924-49)
Arts Students League under Boardman and Kenneth Hayes Miller in 1921.
Following an exhibition of his work in Toronto in 1928, Fitzgerald was invited to exhibit with the Group of Seven. He became the Group’s only Western member in 1932, just before the Group’s expansion into the Canadian Group of Painters, of which Fitzgerald was a charter member.
Royal Canadian Academy, 1913
Winnipeg Art Gallery (one man show), 1921
McMicheal Canadian Art Collection
Art Gallery of Toronto
National Gallery of Canada
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Many National and International private and public collections