Artist Trivia: James Fitzgerald

James Fitzgerald, Bendin' the Fors'l, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum
James Fitzgerald, Bendin’ the Fors’l, circa 1923, Watercolor on paper, Gift of Edgar and Anne Hubert, 1993.21.2

Art Trivia: Who is this artist?

This artist led an adventurous life, first serving in the Marines then enrolling in a well-known Boston art school. While on a semester break, they were a passenger and subsequently joined the crew of a fishing vessel.  In the third decade of the 20th century, they visited an island off the coast of Maine and would return there later to live full time. This artist worked primarily in their studio, but would spend lengths of time visually observing their subjects before beginning an artwork. In later years, this artist was inspired by Maine’s highest peak, as well as the sea. Traveling until the end of their life, they died on an island in Ireland. 

Answer: James Fitzgerald

James E. Fitzgerald was born in Boston, Massachusetts. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1918-1919, he enrolled in the Massachusetts Normal Art School (later Massachusetts School of Art & Design, 1919-1923), and subsequently at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1923-24). During semester break in 1923, he shipped aboard the Elizabeth Howard out of Gloucester initially to paint and sketch, but following a violent storm that left one sailor injured, he joined the crew and learned to jump into the dories for halibut fishing off the Grand Banks. In 1924 he made his first visit to Monhegan, Maine.

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. As a studio artist, he was seen standing for hours capturing mentally the cliffs, gulls, or fishermen as they worked, returning to his easel to paint. His images of gulls wheeling over fishermen cleaning cod on Monhegan’s Fish Beach have become iconic.

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 off the coast of Donegal suddenly in April 1971. (from The James Fitzgerald Legacy and the Monhegan Museum)

Featured in “Maine and American Art: Farnsworth Art Museum” with thanks to the Henry Luce Foundation and Wyeth Foundation for American Art.

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