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Young Mr. Fitzgerald

by Elisabeth Henderson

Manitoba Pageant, September 1958, Volume 4, Number 1

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

It was in Grade Seven that I first knew Lemoine Fitzgerald, whose pictures many of you will have seen in the Winnipeg Art Gallery or in the collection that is being exhibited through the country. There were four of us in one corner of the class-room who particularly liked the drawing period, but his pigeon-berries and hawthorns and crocuses and Prang models were always just a little better than anyone else's. I do not remember that we ever thought it strange for a boy to draw well, perhaps because his arithmetic was so good too. Men ploughing a field, boys rowing upstream, the cistern with intake and discharge pipes of different diameters ... these all worked out for him as promptly and accurately as did the high light on an apple or a tricky bit of perspective. He could sing too; there was no Musical Festival in Winnipeg then but we used to do Gilbert and Sullivan with our class teacher and Lemoine made a very good sailor in "Pinafore" for he was big even then, with curly fair hair and a jolly look. The other boys, as might be expected, called him "Lemons."

Lemoine Fitzgerald, fourteen years of age.
Source: Mrs. L. Fitzgerald

All the while he must have been seeing more than the rest of us did. As a better-than-average mathematician it was natural that he should go into a financial office when he left school, and he was soon talked of as one of our very promising young business men. But he was painting in his spare time, working by himself, saying nothing about it. It was only when his sister would smuggle us into his room to see his pictures that we began to understand that he was really quite different from the rest of us. Then one day he made his decision; painting was to be his work, not merely a hobby. "I shut my desk, and never went back."

The first years were hard ones for him and for his young wife. There were always people who believed in him, but Winnipeg was a poor market for art, and too often those who had money to buy pictures wanted a famous name, or could not see the beauty of prairie skies and fields or ordinary city houses. He taught, he did commercial work, and slowly recognition came, in the East perhaps sooner than here. The time came when he was able to go away to study, but unlike many of our gifted young people he returned to Winnipeg with what he had learned, back to the wide sweep of sky and prairie and the simple subjects he loved.

He was a very modest person always, who did not know how to pose and would never allow himself to be advertised. I remember once while waiting for the streetcar on a windy corner he told me that a picture I particularly liked had been hung in the Tate Gallery ... speaking very quietly so that he might not be overheard, not an "arty" person at all. A stranger might easily have taken him for, say, a prospector in from the North, with his great height, the rough tweeds, the steady eyes of one accustomed to great distances; and always a book in his pocket.

He never ceased to learn; to the last he would experiment with new techniques. But there must be no short-cuts, no silly talk about self-expression taking the place of a patient learning of one's craft. "The joy," he said once, "is in the conception. The rest is plain hard work."

He taught many young people to paint, but more, I should think, to see the beauty that lies all about us. Towards the end his name grew more familiar in his own city and he was honoured by the University, and yet one feels that his real reward, if he ever consciously desired a reward, came when someone recognized in a picture what he had tried to say. The curly hair had thinned, but back would come the old light in the eyes, the pleased smile ...

"We're smart and sober men
And quite devoid of fear."

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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