James Fitzgerald

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1869, d.1945

View Of Cathedral Square From Hereford Street

Edinburgh-born commercial artist James Fitzgerald exhibited this meticulously rendered view of Cathedral Square in Ōtautahi Christchurch alongside another titled A Corner in the Square. The two paintings were described as “large street scenes, very bright and almost photographic in quality”. One reviewer found their “frank realism … notable” but also expressed the wish “that an artist of such ability had employed his imagination to greater advantage”. This work, however, was published by several Te Ika-a-Maui / North Island newspapers alongside the heading “Fidelity in Painting”. When shown again at the Otago Society of Arts in November, a reviewer deemed this one the less successful, being “not so well handled, and considerably overstated in colour passages”. Putting vintage quibbles aside, Summer Evening in the City may be recognised as something rare, recording a now unrecognisable view from High Street into Cathedral Square, on a balmy 1930s evening in raking summer light.

(From Here on the Ground, 18 May – 17 November 2024)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Above Ground, 15 December 2015 - 12 February 2017

    James Fitzgerald moved from England to Auckland in 1903, and then twenty years later to Christchurch, where he established his own commercial art studio. His watercolour view captures Christchurch’s Cathedral Square at its most architecturally cohesive and complete. Many will remember the United Service Hotel at left, built in 1884–85, demolished 1990; fewer will recall the neoclassical Bank of New Zealand building at right, designed in 1866, demolished 1963. While it is possible to lament our general cultural attitude to architectural heritage, it is also difficult to imagine anything here, even if it had been protected, as capable of surviving the 2010-11 earthquakes that hit the city.

  • Cathedral Square was a favourite subject of James Fitzgerald. This view looks northwest, with the United Service Hotel in the left foreground and the old Bank of New Zealand building on the right. Both buildings have been demolished.

    Fitzgerald’s experience as a commercial artist is reflected in his highly detailed paintings. In this work he has carefully observed the street scene, from the disappearing tram to the hats worn by everyone going about their business.

    Born in Edinburgh, Fitzgerald was apprenticed as a lithographic artist in London. He settled in Auckland in 1903. He oversaw the art department of the New Zealand Herald and also established his own commercial studio, called Medusa. Fitzgerald moved to Christchurch in 1923 and relocated the Medusa studio to the city, as well as working for J. Gadsen & Co. He exhibited at the Canterbury Society of Arts and with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington. Fitzgerald was an active member of the Imperial Cultural Society in Christchurch. (Label date unknown)