Season’s Greetings: Christmas Cards by L.L. FitzGerald
Every Christmas for 25 years, Winnipeg-based artist L.L. FitzGerald (1890–1956) sent handmade greeting cards to his neighbours, colleagues and friends. More than just a festive gesture, the intricate and elegant cards served as a humble form of self-promotion – a way to continue sharing his creations among his inner network, including staff of the National Gallery of Canada. Spanning 1923 to 1947 (with only one year missed due to illness), the Christmas cards reveal the evolution of FitzGerald’s artistic interests and technique, from his time spent as a teacher at the Winnipeg School of Art to his distinguished invitation to join the famed Group of Seven in 1932. Most importantly, they reveal his commitment to tradition and his desire to keep in touch with those around him, time and time again.
Although FitzGerald toyed with the idea of sending personalized Christmas cards as early as 1911, his first, River, was sent twelve years later in 1923. Here, the artist sets the stage for what would instinctively follow: landscape and cityscape scenes with no direct holiday or religious imagery. Instead, FitzGerald favoured reflections of his immediate surroundings, including trees, rivers, farmland and views from his city window.
The curator Helen Coy, in her 1982 catalogue FitzGerald as Printmaker, reflects on the importance of light: “This concern with light, always emanating from a mysterious source, is the closest the cards came to having a spiritual overtone, and even here it was very restrained. The feeling induced was more one of nostalgia for a hushed and silent world, far from the problems of everyday life."
FitzGerald’s most colourful card, based on a cover design for Beaver Magazine, came in 1924 when he painted a bundled-up figure trotting towards a cabin in the snow. Stylistically, the card differs from his other creations in its use of bright colours and deep perspective. His brushstrokes speak to the expertise in painting that defined his larger body of work.
FitzGerald took great care when producing his Christmas cards, in particular in his choice of ink. His process typically involved a preliminary sketch followed by a transfer drawing and several rounds of additions and proofs. Curiously, though, his meticulous concern did not include paper. From pages torn out of books to scraps of cardboard – as seen here in a preliminary design – FitzGerald would make beautiful depictions on any material he had to hand.
By 1926, FitzGerald had developed an admiration for the contour line and an inclination towards the drypoint technique. This time-consuming yet visually striking method, used on this 1926 card, consists of carving an image into material using ink, a sharp needle and a careful wiping technique.
A remarkable 22 of FitzGerald’s Christmas cards were linocuts. Predominantly black-and-white and often made on delicate Japan paper, these works were characterized by their flecks that produced a brilliant effect of glowing light. In 1942 he produced a linocut of two jars on a windowsill overlooking architectural scenery beyond, while in 1946 he created a similar view onto a cityscape. This kind of city scene, revealed through an open window, was particularly common in FitzGerald’s work. Similar to his earlier compositions, these scenes were a literal representation of his view of the world – something he unquestionably enjoyed sharing with friends over the course of his greeting card years.
L.L. FitzGerald’s Christmas card collection is housed in the Library and Archives at the National Gallery of Canada. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.