As a boy, and later as an artist, Manitoba painter Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald (1890–1956) was captivated by the penetrating prairie light and the natural phenomena that occur with the change of seasons. In a radio interview in 1954 he told the CBC, “The prairie has many aspects, intense light and the feeling of great space are dominating characteristics and are the major problems of the prairie artist.” Summer Afternoon, The Prairie is FitzGerald’s first painting of consequence to tackle the vast expanse of low horizon and big sky that characterize the prairie landscape.
The canvas borrows from Impressionism: FitzGerald makes use of a highly decorative juxtaposition of broken dabs of prismatic colour to suggest the shimmering heat of a summer day. The textured, thick brushwork of the landscape gives way to a dominant sky in which more widely spaced strokes form a background to billowing cumuli. Meanwhile, the bridge over the culvert in the foreground indicates that the land has been cultivated, and the house with the red roof at the right confirms that the prairie is desirable for habitation. In showing it as a pastoral paradise—a form of Arcadia—FitzGerald helped to foster the notion of Western Canada as a beautiful and inviting place.
This Spotlight is excerpted from Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald Life & Work by Michael Parke-Taylor.