Exhibitions

Seeking Eden: James Fitzgerald in Monterey

January 13, 2022 – April 23, 2022

A master watercolorist, James Fitzgerald is remembered best for his stark, angular paintings of seascapes, animals, and nature, yet he also painted in oil, painted nudes, and made a delicate charcoal portrait of Steinbeck that is now part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

Born in Boston, Fitzgerald’s parents and grandparents recognized his talent early. They set up a studio space for him when he was a boy and even let him skip Mass to draw and paint, a notable allowance for a South Boston Irish Catholic family. Always drawn to the sea, in the early 1920s Fitzgerald took a break from his art studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to crew fishing ships and freighters off the coasts of North America. These experiences gave his paintings of seafaring life a certain truth – and something more that he described in this way, “Simple realism isn’t enough…pure painting is concerned with timelessness.”

During a trip along the West Coast in 1928, Fitzgerald’s travels brought him to Monterey, California where he settled for the next fourteen years, establishing a studio and becoming a central member of the Cannery Row scene that included John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, John Cage, Martha Graham, and Krishna Murty. 

MMA Executive Director Corey Madden says, “We are thrilled to host this exhibition in partnership with the Monhegan Museum of Art & History. Looking at the paintings he did here in the age of the Great Depression, it is not surprising to see how many of his subjects were ordinary working people. His work captures a depth of human experience and an exquisite natural beauty through the lens of hard times. Fitzgerald’s Monterey work seems particularly inspiring and essential now as we pass through our own challenging days. The exhibition is also a powerful way for us to animate one of our core commitments to presenting the art of California’s past.”

About the Monhegan Museum of Art & History and the James Fitzgerald Legacy

The mission of the Monhegan Museum of Art & History is to preserve and display objects of historical and cultural significance to Monhegan Island, Maine, and in so doing, to provide a source of information and fascination about Monhegan for the benefit of the residents of the island and all other interested persons. Operating within the framework of the Monhegan Museum, the James Fitzgerald Legacy seeks to preserve, protect, and promote the artistry of James Fitzgerald.

Image: James Fitzgerald (1899-1971), Shrimp Boats at Night, n.d., watercolor on paper, 20.25 x 26 in. (51.435 x 66.04 cm). Monterey Museum of Art. Gift of Anne M. Hubert, 1997.203. Image © James Fitzgerald Legacy.