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Walter J. Phillips. Winnipeg Winter, 1920

CURIOUSLY, MANITOBA SEEMS to to lack an extensive watercolour tradition, despite the fact that in the 20s and 30s it claimed two of Canada's finest practitioners. Valentine Fanshaw was the earliest, though by no means the best. English born and trained, he arrived in 1912, just a year before Walter Phillips, who may have been influenced initially by the elder artist.

Phillips proved to be one of the most remarkable artists Canada has seen, one of the rare Canadian artists to command a market outside the country -- for both his unique woodblock prints as well as his accomplished watercolours.Phillips' precise layouts recall Cotman, although he lacks Cotman's remarkable ability to incorporate detail with broad design. But he compensated for this by a vivid sense of colour, using colours that weren't available in the early 19th century. Phillips lived in Winnipeg from his arrival in 1913 until 1941, when he moved to Calgary, there becoming an important influence on both the Alberta and Saskatchewan art scenes through his involvement with the Banff School of Fine Arts.

The other substantial Manitoba watercolour painter was Lionel Lemoine FitzGerald. FitzGerald was a devoted painter of watercolours, although he worked in other media as well. He also was one of the first painters to bring a strong influence of modernism to the Canadian West. One senses that his paintings in all media were based first and foremost up still life, on arrangements of "forms". His paintings are precise, pointillist, and relentlessly muted -- sometimes to a fault.