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Manitoba History: Review: Helen Coy, FitzGerald as Printmaker: A Catalogue raisonné of the First Complete Exhibition of the Printed Works

by Angela E. Davis
University of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 9, Spring 1985

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to

FitzGerald as Printmaker: A Catalogue raisonne of the First Complete Exhibition of the Printed Works. Helen Coy. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1982. 116 pp., ill., ports. ISBN 0-88755-129-7.

This book is a most welcome addition to the slowly accumulating literature on one of Canada’s truly individual artists. Born in Winnipeg in 1890, Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald was Manitoba’s first artist of national and international stature. With the exception of six months during the winter of 1921-22 at the New York Art Students League and two winters in British Columbia, FitzGerald spent the whole of his working career as an artist in Winnipeg. He exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy in 1913 and in 1918 his painting “Late Fall, Manitoba” was purchased by the National Gallery. In 1929 he was appointed principal of the Winnipeg School of Art, a position he held until 1949, retiring only seven years before his death. His own work, in consequence, was fitted outside the hours of a demanding schedule of teaching and administration. That he managed to retain his own unique approach to art is, therefore, all the more remarkable.

The work of many of western Canada’s early artists suffered from a lack of understanding on the part of eastern critics: FitzGerald’s was no exception. In 1939, for example, the Montreal critic John Lyman said that FitzGerald’s was “the work of a chaste and frigid virgin of art,” [1] and in 1943 William Colgate referred to it as consisting of “vignettes ... somewhat vague and unfinished.” [2] It was the refinement and delicacy of his work which the critics appear to have had difficulty in accepting. As Ann Davis has noted in her study of FitzGerald’s North American influences, “[h]is work is such that it does not fall into neat packages of style and periods.” [3] It was, however, clearly recognized as important by his fellow artists. By 1928, in spite of artistic and philosophical differences between them, he was in regular correspondence with J. E. H. MacDonald and other members of the Group of Seven. Works were bought by Lawren Harris and Bertram Brooker. In 1932 he was invited to become an official member of the Group of Seven and to take part in their exhibitions. As J. Russell Harper points out, however, his contribution “was so individualistic that he scarcely seems to belong.” [4] This individuality is equally present in the prints. They were made, with a few exceptions, between 1922 and 1934, and successfully demonstrate how, within the limitations of his chosen subject matter, FitzGerald worked out his concern for line as the basis of his artistic style. Using the context of the prairie urban environment in which he lived, he was able to follow through his belief that an artist should present “one’s own thoughts in one’s own manner.” [5]

The value of FitzGerald as Printmaker is that it can be enjoyed by scholar and lay-person alike. As the catalogue raisonne of the first complete exhibition of FitzGerald’s printed works, helc at Gallery 1.1.1. from March 17 to April 15, 1982, it will be a most useful reference work for art historians and students. At the same time, it is presented in a manner easily understandable to “the common reader.” Ms. Coy has included a short biography with special reference to the influences of other graphic artists, an extremely interesting description of FitzGerald’s print-making method by Professor Arnold Saper, notes written by FitzGerald on his processes, and a glossary of printing terms. The prints themselves are presented in four groups (fine art, Christmas card relief prints, utility prints, and monoprints). They are in chronological order and all relevant information is provided with each print, including valuable contextual details. The standard of reproduction is excellent, curiously giving the reader an advantage over those who attended the exhibition itself. There, because the fragility of some works necessitated the use of subdued lighting, one viewer, at least, was prevented from full appreciation of FitzGerald’s graphic art. Ms. Coy has fortunately rectified this with her admirable catalogue.


1. Quoted in Helen Coy, FitzGerald as Printmaker, p. 15.

2. William Colgate, Canadian Art: Its Origins and Development (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., 1967), p. 180.

3. Ann Davis, “Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald: A North American Artist,” in Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald (1890-1956): The Development of an Artist. Catalogue (Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1978), p. 27.

4. J. Russell Harper, Painting in Canada: a history (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), p. 283.

5. Patricia E. Bovey, “Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald: Some European Influences on His Work,” in Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald (1890-1956), p. 101.

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