Lot #107

L.L. FitzGerald
Still Life with Plant

oil on canvas mounted on board
signed and dated 1948 lower right
19.75 x 14 ins ( 50.2 x 35.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $25,000.00$15,000.00 - $25,000.00

Price Realized $168,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Provenance:
Acquired directly from the artist by Mrs. R.C. (Eleanor) Riley, Winnipeg
W.P. Riley, Winnipeg
Private Collection
Exhibited:
“FitzGerald Memorial Exhibition”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, (Supplement for the Winnipeg showing, 1958), no. 86
“In Seclusion with Nature: The Later Work of L. LeMoine FitzGerald, 1942 to 1956”, Winnipeg Art Gallery; travelling to London Regional Art Gallery, London; Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax; McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg; Musée du Québec, Quebec City, 1989‒1990, no. 29
“Into the Light: Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg; travelling to Winnipeg Art Gallery, 12 October 2019‒12 July 2020
Literature:
Michael Parke‒Taylor, “In Seclusion with Nature: The Later Work of L. Lemoine FitzGerald 1942 to 1956”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1988, no. 29, reproduced page 115
Sarah Milroy, Ian A.C. Dejardin and Michael Parke‒Taylor, “Into the Light: Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 2019, listed page 231, reproduced page 116
In 1947, Lionel Lemoine FitzGerald negotiated a leave of absence from his responsibilities as director at the Winnipeg School of Art. With time to concentrate exclusively on his artwork, the fifty‒seven‒year‒old painted one of the masterpieces of his career: “The Little Plant” (1947; McMichael Canadian Art Collection). This accomplished picture set the direction for a series of subtle still‒lifes that are among his best works from the later forties and chart a path to greater abstraction.

“Still Life with Plant” is one such example. Painted most likely in late 1948 when FitzGerald was staying in West Vancouver, this picture follows the precedent of “The Little Plant” with a similar simplified compositional geometry of horizontal and vertical forms, choice of muted colour scheme, and painterly technique. The subject is a daffodil plant whose newly‒sprouted leaves emerge from a white cylindrical container supported by an oval dish placed on a tabletop that the artist tilts towards the picture plane.

“Still Life with Plant” captivates the viewer by the beauty of its abstraction. The tipped‒up area behind the white pot is divided into diagonal sections that defy logic and perspective. But the painting adjacent to the daffodil is even more astonishing. Here a range of subdued colours in brown, red, lilac, and green are conceived with the same palette‒knife‒like application of small ridges of paint as those found in “The Little Plant”. This painterly abstraction gives the plant something of an energetic, vibrating aura. This corresponds to FitzGerald’s idea that the artist requires “an appreciation for the endlessness of the living force which seems to pervade and flow through all natural forms even though they seem on the surface to be so ephemeral. So, in great works of art, this same unseen force moves through leaving [the] spectator with an undefined feeling that lives on in the memory and becomes part of his character, another experience added.”

“Still Life with Plant” is a painting with the promise of such reward.

We extend our thanks to Michael Parke‒Taylor, Canadian art historian, curator and author of “Lionel LeMoine Fitzgerald: Life & Work” (Art Canada Institute) for contributing the preceding essay.

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Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald
(1890 - 1956) Group of Seven, WSC

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 exhibited 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 shows 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 “Canadian Art” (1943) noted, “…he returned to Winnipeg to teach in its art school. In spite of his necessary preoccupation with teaching, he was 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, 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 in 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 cycle 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 National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has one of the finest collections of his work due to prudent purchases by its curators, singular bequest of the Douglas M. Duncan Collection, made through Duncan’s sister J.P. Barwick.

He was awarded an Honorary L.L.D., at the University 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.

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.

Literature Source:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 1: A-F, 5th Edition, Revised and Expanded", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1997