Monhegan Museum of Art & History celebrates the life and art of Monhegan painter James Fitzgerald

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Monhegan Museum of Art & History celebrates the life and art of Monhegan painter James Fitzgerald
Saltin' Mackerel, ca. 1960, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. ,Collection of Stephen S. Fuller and Susan D. Bateson.

MONEHAN ISLAND, ME.- This summer, the Monhegan Museum of Art & History celebrates the life and art of painter James Fitzgerald (1899-1971) in a retrospective of his watercolor and oil paintings. The Odyssey of James Fitzgerald will be on view July 1 through September 30, 2022.

The Odyssey of James Fitzgerald will explore Fitzgerald’s early sketches as a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and paintings from his time in Monterey, California where he was part of a community of artists and writers known as the Cannery Row circle. A special focus will be paid to Fitzgerald’s paintings of Monhegan Island, where he visited several times in the 1920s and 1930s before making the island his permanent residence. With the help of his good friends and patrons, Anne and Edgar Hubert, he purchased a home and studio built by Rockwell Kent--buildings that are now part of the Monhegan Museum. Fitzgerald’s Monhegan paintings were informed by his close observation of the place and the people, and by his interest in Asian art and philosophy, which he first encountered in California. Paintings of Fitzgerald’s annual trips to Maine’s Mount Katahdin, and from his visits to the Aran Islands in Ireland, explore his lifelong interest in the power of nature and man’s relationship to the sea.

"James Fitzgerald developed a life-long commitment to the ever-elusive quest of capturing the universal in the particular,” said Dan Broeckelmann, Chair, James Fitzgerald Legacy. “A master of composition and simplification of form, with subjects ranging from the mundane to the majestic, James Fitzgerald's body of work continues to offer great beauty, freshness, and originality."

The James Fitzgerald Legacy at the Monhegan Museum of Art & History

The Monhegan Museum of Art & History was given the James E. Fitzgerald Estate by Anne M. Hubert, his surviving heir, in 2003. The estate includes a significant collection of artwork by James Fitzgerald, the artist’s library, and an archive of original papers and artist’s materials pertaining to his life and work, along with his house and studio on Monhegan, which were built and occupied by artist Rockwell Kent during the first decade of the 20th century. The James Fitzgerald Legacy operates within the framework of the Monhegan Museum of Art & History to preserve, protect, and promote the artist’s estate.

James E. Fitzgerald:

James E. Fitzgerald was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1899. By the age of four, his parents recognized his artistic talents and built a studio space for him in the family’s attic. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1918-1919, Fitzgerald enrolled first in the Massachusetts School of Art (1919-1923) and subsequently attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, both in Boston (1923-24). In 1924, he made his first visit to Monhegan. In 1928, Fitzgerald sailed as an able-bodied seaman on the Dorothy Luckenbach out of New York City, working his way to the West Coast. Although he had intended to reach Alaska, his travels took him to Monterey, California, where he settled, married, and built a home and studio. While in Monterey, he became a part of the circle of friends who gathered at the Cannery Row marine biology laboratory of Edward ‘Doc’ Ricketts. The group included John Steinbeck, John Cage, and Joseph Campbell, among others. He continued to travel east and paint on Monhegan during those years, and he eventually decided to settle on the island in 1943, and Fitzgerald, who in the 1940s had exhibited at Vose Galleries in Boston, gradually withdrew from the commercial art world.

On Monhegan, Fitzgerald became part of the year-round community, purchasing first the studio and then the house built by Rockwell Kent in the first decade of the 20th century. For the last 25 years of his life, Fitzgerald visited Katahdin in the off-season to paint, and in the late 1960s he visited Ireland several times, where he died on the island of Aranmore suddenly in April 1971.

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