Botany event at U of T shows off Canadian artist's flower power

In the 1860s, Agnes Fitzgibbon blossomed into a pioneering artist known for her plant paintings.

Lecture on Tuesday featured selection of works from Canada's first wildflower guide

One of Agnes Fitzgibbon's paintings from her 1869 book Canadian Wild Flowers that was part of a U of T botany presentation Tuesday evening. (Barry Smith/CBC )

In the 1860s, Agnes Fitzgibbon blossomed into a pioneering artist known for her plant paintings.

"She defined a way of depicting Canadian flora," said Calgary-based botanical artist Linda LeGeyt. 

A selection of 10 of Fitzgibbon's pieces, freshly picked from the iconic guidebook Canadian Wild Flowers, was ogled at by contemporary botany artists during a presentation at the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library on Tuesday.

LeGeyt incorporated Fitzgibbon's work in her lecture called "Where Art Meets Science: Traditions in Canadian Botanical Art."

"It's an important pioneering female story in Canada," she said.

Botanical artist Linda LeGeyt introduced fellow artists to the pioneering women who created Canadian Wild Flowers in 1869. (Barry Smith/CBC )

Showing Canadians the beauty of flowers 

Fitzgibbon painted and lithographed the book published in 1869, while her aunt Catharine Parr Trail, a renowned English-Canadian author and naturalist, penned the descriptions.

"Neither of them were professionally trained in their fields, but they managed to put together this book with the idea of educating the Canadian public about the native flowers in Canada," LeGeyt said.

LeGeyt said the women came from England to the backwoods of Canada with nothing. "They didn't have any running water. They didn't have any interior services whatsoever," she said. "Yet, they were able to create this very important volume capturing our native flowers."

An original wildflower painting by Canadian artist Agnes Fitzgibbons. (Barry Smith/CBC )

More than 5,000 hand-painted blossoms

The book was a hot-ticket item for who's who in Canada at the time. There were 500 copies on the original pre-subscription order available at $5 a copy.

LeGeyt said Fitzgibbons was widowed with eight children, and she and her kids tediously hand-painted more than 5,000 blooms.

One of her daughters, Geraldine Moodie, went on to become a renowned photographer focused on capturing the lives of Indigenous people.

"As a 12-year-old, she was probably imbued with her mother's creative energy," LeGeyt said.

Agnes Fitzgibbons painted by hand more than 5,000 flowers for her book Canadian Wild Flowers. (Barry Smith/CBC)

Parr Trail kept a herbarium, where she pressed and dried different plant specimens. She learned about the plants from Indigenous people in Canada. "She was very keen that other people learn about these particular plants," LeGeyt said. 

The paintings are available to view on request at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

"They were done 150 years ago, and marking Canada's 150th birthday celebration, this is a very, very good story," LeGeyt said. 

Ten original paintings by Agnes Fitzgibbons delighted botanical artists attending a "When Art Meets Science" lecture at the University of Toronto Tuesday. (Barry Smith/CBC )
The cover of Canadian Wild Flowers. (Barry Smith/CBC)
A closeup of a plant painting from Canadian Wild Flowers. (Barry Smith/CBC)