Canadian official war artists

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Canadian official war artists create an artistic rendering of war through the media of visual, digital installations, film, poetry, choreography, music, etc., by showing its impact as men and women are shown waiting, preparing, fighting, suffering, celebrating,[1] These traditionally were a select group of artists who were employed on contract, or commissioned to produce specific works during the First World War, the Second World War and select military actions in the post-war period. This group includes members of the still operational Canadian Forces Artist Program.[2]

A war artist will have depicted some aspect of war through art; this might be a pictorial record or it might commemorate how war shapes lives.[3] The devastation of war is depicted in painting and drawing quite differently from what a camera can achieve.

The works produced by war artists illustrate and record many aspects of war, and the individual's experience of war, whether allied or enemy, service or civilian, military or political, social or cultural. The rôle of the artist and his or her work embraces the causes, course and consequences of conflict and it has been primarily an essentially educational purpose, but now is a culturally independent act of witness in contemporary Canada.[3] Official war artists have been appointed by governments for information or propaganda purposes and to record events on the battlefield;[4] but there are many other types of war artist.

First World War[edit]

Ablain-St. Nazaire by John William Beatty in the collection of the Canadian War Museum compared to the ruins of the church as seen today.

Representative works by Canada's war artists have been gathered into the extensive collection of the Canadian War Museum. In the First World War, Canada developed an official art program under the influence of Lord Beaverbrook. He provided leadership in creating the Canadian War Records Office in London. He also established the Canadian War Memorials Fund which evolved into a collection of war art by artists and sculptors in Britain and Canada. Some of these were considered "official" war artists. For example, the English artist Alfred Munnings was employed as war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Munnings painted many scenes, including a mounted portrait of General Jack Seely on his horse Warrior in 1918 (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).[5] Munnings worked on this canvas a few thousand yards from the German front lines. When General Seely's unit was forced into a hasty withdrawal, the artist discovered what it was like to come under shellfire.[6]

Alfred Bastien. Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele, 1917

Munnings also painted Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron in 1918 (now in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa).[7] In what is known as "the last great cavalry charge" at the Battle of Moreuil Wood, Gordon Flowerdew was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) in a successful engagement with entrenched German forces.[8]

The Canadian Forestry Corps invited Munnings to tour their work camps, and he produced drawings, watercolors and paintings, including Draft Horses, Lumber Mill in the Forest of Dreux in France in 1918.[9] This role of horses was critical and under-reported; and in fact, horse fodder was the single largest commodity shipped to the front by some countries.[10]

The "Canadian War Records Exhibition" at the Royal Academy after war's end included forty-five of Munnings canvasses.[11]

Another example of a war artist embedded with Canadian forces was the Belgian soldier-artist Alfred Bastien whose work is part of the permanent collection of the Canadian War Museum.[12]

Second World War[edit]

The Canadian War Records (CWR) was the name given to Canada's Second World War art program. The CWR produced two kinds of art: field sketches and finished paintings. The War Artists' Committee (WAC) recommended that the artists should attempt to share in the experience of "active operations" in order to "know and understand the action, the circumstances, the environment, and the participants." The ultimate goal was defined as "productions" which were "worthy of Canada's highest cultural traditions, doing justice to History, and as works of art, worthy of exhibition anywhere at any time."[13]

There was a general appreciation of the need to develop what "the camera cannot interpret." The government recognized that "a war so epic in its scope by land, sea and air, and so detailed and complex in its mechanism, requires interpreting [by artists] as well as recording."[2] On the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the war artists were recognized and addressed directly in a Ceremony of Remembrance in the Canadian Senate,

Recent conflicts[edit]

From 1946 to 2014 over 70+ civilian artists have participated in documenting the Canadian Forces. This was initially supported by the Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Artists Program (CAFCAP) and more recently by the Canadian Forces Artist Program headed by Dr. John MacFarlane.[15]

Selected artists[edit]

First World War[edit]

Second World War[edit]

Capt. Will Ogilvie, Official army war artist, with some of his paintings, 9 February 1944

Recent conflicts[edit]

  • Edward Zuber, 1932–[40]
  • SMSteele, 2008–2010, the first poet to serve as a war artist in Afghanistan[41]
  • Scott Waters, 2003-4, 2012-14[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canadian War Museum (CWM), "Australia, Britain and Canada in the Second World War," 2005.
  2. ^ a b Tolson, Roger. "A Common Cause: Britain's War Artists Scheme." Canadian War Museum, 2005.
  3. ^ a b Imperial War Museum (IWM), About the Imperial War Museum Archived December 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ National Archives (UK), "'The Art of War,' Learn About the Art."
  5. ^ Frost & Reed: Munnings biography.
  6. ^ Chew, Peter. "The Painter Who Hated Picasso," Smithsonian. October 2006.
  7. ^ Canadian War Museum: Munnings, Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron (1918).
  8. ^ Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) Society: Archived July 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. History of Regiment. Archived February 3, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Leister Galleries: Munnings.
  10. ^ Keegan, John (1994). A History of Warfare, p. 308.
  11. ^ Sir Alfred Munnings Museum: Archived September 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. The Artist. Archived September 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum Artifact Number: 19710261-0093—Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele by Lieutenant Alfred Theodore Joseph Bastien, 1917, oil on canvas, Height 61.3 cm, Width 86.5 cm.
  13. ^ Brandon, Laura. "'Doing Justice to History:' Canada's Second World War Official Art Program." CWM, 2005.
  14. ^ Robert Stewart Hyndman," Globe and Mail (Toronto). January 9, 2010.
  15. ^ Brandon, Laura. "A Brush With War" CWM, 2009.
  16. ^ Art Gallery of Ontario, "Canvas of War: Masterpieces from the Canadian War Museum," October 2001–January 2002.
  17. ^ a b c Davis, Ann. (1992). The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting, 1920–1940, p. 30., p. 30, at Google Books
  18. ^ Morse, Jennifer. "Kenneth Forbes," Legion Magazine. March 1, 1997.
  19. ^ a b Brandon, Laura. (2008). Art and War, p. 46., p. 46, at Google Books
  20. ^ Stacy, Robert. "Jefferys, Charles William," Archived July 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Canadian Encyclopedia
  21. ^ Wyndham Lewis
  22. ^ Silcox, David P. "Milne, David Brown," Canadian Encyclopedia.
  23. ^ "Eric Aldwinckle - Nothing Uninteresting". Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  24. ^ CWM, Miller Brittain
  25. ^ Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Alan Brockman Beddoe
  26. ^ Canadian war artist Bruno Bobak dies in New Brunswick at age of 88 CTV News, September 25, 2012
  27. ^ LAC, Molly Lamb Bobak
  28. ^ LAC, Frank Leonard Brooks
  29. ^ CWM, Paraskeva Clark
  30. ^ LAC, David Alexander Colville
  31. ^ LAC, Charles Fraser Comfort
  32. ^ CWM, Charles Goldhamer
  33. ^ Gessel, Paul. "The art of living long," Ottawa Citizen. January 6, 2009; "Robert Hyndman," Ottawa Citizen. December 4, 2009.
  34. ^ CWM, Pegi Nicol MacLeod
  35. ^ CWM, Jack Nichols
  36. ^ CWM, Goodridge Roberts
  37. ^ Swinton, George. "Jack Leonard Shadbolt," Canadian Encyclopedia.
  38. ^ LAC, George Campbell Tinning
  39. ^ Morse, Jennifer. "War Art: Geoffrey Bagley," Legion Magazine, October 11, 2010.
  40. ^ The Art of War," Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 12.3. Winter 2010. pp. 102-103.
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ [2]


Further reading[edit]

  • Gallatin, Albert Eugene. Art and the Great War. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1919).
  • Gillis, Raina-Clair. "Artistic Impressions of War," Canadian Military Journal.
  • Oliver, Dean Frederick, and Laura Brandon (2000). Canvas of war: painting the Canadian experience, 1914 to 1945. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-55054-772-0
  • Tippett, Maria, 1944. Art at the service of war: Canada, art, and the great war. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

External links[edit]

  • Kandahar Journal War artist Richard Johnson's blog from the front lines in Kandahar, Afghanistan
  • A news illustrator War artist Richard Johnson's work from Iraq and Afghanistan
  • The Long Road An illustrated article on Canada's ten-year conflict in Afghanistan, by the National Post.
  • Painting to Afghanistan Painter Christopher Hennebery embedded with Canadian Forces, Afghanistan
  • [3] Official War Artist SMSteele's open diary recording her road to war and back, as a poet, with 1PPCLI to Afghanistan, and her work as a poet, digital artist, writer, and scholar examining the narrative of the Great War 1914-18