Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

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James Fitzgerald in Maine


"James Fitzgerald in Maine" is organized in honor of the 90th birthday of Anne Hubert, the painter's longtime patron and friend, also coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth. It will feature nine major and rarely-seen works by the renowned painter of Maine, all dating from the final phase of his career on Monhegan Island, when he benefited most from the patronage of Hubert and her husband Edgar. These bold and haunting images of Monhegan and of Mount Katahdin, painted in Fitzgerald's characteristically stark yet elegant style, are on view on the first floor of the Museum through August 29, 1999.

Recent approaches to art history have sought to deconstruct the myth of the "artistic genius," driven by visual inspiration alone and uninfluenced by the lure of money or fame. The remarkable story of James Fitzgerald (1899-1971), however, demonstrates that some truth can yet be found in this idea. Having achieved moderate success as an painter in Boston and subsequently California, Fitzgerald in the 1940s set up a summer residence on Monhegan, a much-painted island off the coast of Maine. There, he increasingly suffused himself in his painting and in the stunning natural landscape of his new home. He participated in exhibitions in his former haunts of Boston and New York only infrequently, and only as was necessary to support his modest way of life. Fitzgerald also found an alternate source of income in creating and restoring gilded picture frames, thus allowing him to keep his own art largely within the realm of the personal or spiritual, rather than the commercial. (left: Plowing with Horses, n.d.,watercolor, 21 x 26 inches, Portland Museum of Art, Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce)

In 1958 two significant events further strengthened the painter's connection to Monhegan and dedication to his art. Fitzgerald purchased the former home and studio of Rockwell Kent, and in so doing gained a permanent home on Monhegan. Although he would continue to spend part of each year in New York, as well as make annual painting trips to Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, Monhegan would remain his home base for the rest of his life. Also that year, Fitzgerald first met Anne and Edgar Hubert, who were immediately taken with the painter's bold works and began a program of regular yearly purchases. It was this mutually beneficial relationship with the Huberts, more than anything else, that allowed Fitzgerald to live his life and practice his art unfettered by the anxieties of finance and reputation that plague most living artists. (right: Mountain Shadows (Katahdin), n.d., watercolor, 21 x 26 inches, Portland Museum of Art, Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce)

The works selected for this exhibition provide an overview of the main themes and influences in Fitzgerald's work during this period. Frank Pierce (oil on canvas, circa 1968) demonstrates a career-long fascination with the abstracted human form, brought to fruition on Monhegan in simply-painted but heroic studies of local personages. The watercolors Cloud-capped Mountain (circa 1948), Flames of Autumn (circa 1949), Katahdin Daybreak (1962), and Chimney Pond, Katahdin (n.d.) track the painter's decades-long engagement with Mount Katahdin, Maine' s tallest peak. Other works show Fitzgerald's multiple visions of Monhegan Island and mark it as an endless source of inspiration for the painter.

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