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From the Collections of the Canadian War Museum

War Art

Art provides a unique look at the war experience because it represents the artist's visual interpretation of his or her surroundings. Paintings can suggest the emotions and sensations that the painter was feeling at the time, and may evoke feelings in the viewer as well. As you look at each painting, ask yourself: How was the artist feeling when he or she painted this? How does this painting make me feel?


Seven Years War

A View of the Plunder and Burning of the City of Grymross
Painted by Thomas Davies in 1758

British army officers in the 18th century received instruction in sketching so that they could record military scenes and operations as Thomas Davies has done here. Davies was a British artillery officer whose draughting skills proved useful to the surveyors of the new British territory around Lake Ontario in the early 1760s.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada, 6270
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada, 6270

A View of the Taking of Quebec
Engraving based on a painting by Hervey Smith in 1797

This engraving is based on a sketch made by Hervey Smith, an aide-de-camp to General James Wolfe during the siege of Quebec in 1759.The siege, which led to British victory in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, took place during the Seven Years' War. Here, Smith depicts British troops scaling the cliffs that lead to the Plains. Their transport ships lie in the St. Lawrence River just below.
Library and Archives Canada,C-139911
Library and Archives Canada,C-139911

A View of the Bishop's House with the Ruins as they appear in going down the Hill from the Upper to the Lower Town (Québec)
Painted by Richard Short in 1761

In 1761, a series of drawings of by Richard Short depicted Québec City as it looked after the successful British siege of 1759. In this example, the ruins symbolize the defeated French, while the relaxed British troops, enjoying time with their families, represent British success.
Library and Archives Canada, C-000350
Library and Archives Canada, C-000350

Joseph Brant, Chief of the Mohawks, 1742-1807
painted by George Romney in 1776

Romney painted his 33- year- old subject in 1776 when Chief Brant visited the artist's London studio. Brant sat for Romney at least twice, on 29 March and 4 April.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada, 8005
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada, 8005

Portrait of Major John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen)
Painted by Solomon Williams around 1805 (reproduction)

Mohawk war chief John Norton led the First Peoples forces at Queenston Heights during the War of 1812. Son of a Cherokee father and Scottish mother, Norton was adopted as a nephew by Joseph Brant (Thayendanega), a leading Mohawk chief. The combination of Iroquois and Mohawk clothing worn by Norton in this portrait reflects both his own dual heritage and the ongoing cultural exchange between First Peoples and Europeans. This portrait was painted in England in 1804-1805.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19950096-001
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19950096-001

Mort du Marquis de Montcalm
(The Death of Montcalm) Engraved by Juste Chevillet after François-Louis-Joseph Watteau in 1783

This print was published 24 years after the death of French General Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm in 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Here, the artist commemorates the event as heroic, virtuous, and honourable.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19940056-004
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19940056-004

First World War

Canada's Answer
Painted by Norman Wilkinson in 1917

English marine artist Norman Wilkinson painted Canada's First Contingent. Over 32,000 soldiers sailed to Britain in 30 passenger liners in October 1914. At the time, it was the single largest group ever to sail from Canada.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0791
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0791

Battle of Courcelette
Painted by Louis Weirter in 1918

Like the observer in the tree in the foreground, painter Lieutenant Louis Weirter witnessed this Somme battle as a soldier. The capture of the ruined town of Courcelette, France on 15 September 1916 was a significant Canadian victory. It was one of the few bright moments in a campaign in which British forces suffered more than 500,000 casualties.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0788
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0788

Stretcher Bearers in a Trench
Painted by Richard Mathews in 1918

Artist Richard Mathews was commissioned as an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and attached to the Medical Corps. In this painting, six soldiers prepare to remove a wounded soldier from a trench. The role of the stretcher bearers, who administered initial first aid on the battlefield, was critical. Thanks to excellent care and prompt treatment, however, 90 per cent of the wounded survived.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0833
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0833

For What?
Painted by Frederick Varley in 1917

This painting portrays a First World War burial close to the battlefield. Varley described the cart in the centre of the picture in an interview. He remembered it as full of "khaki arms and legs ... bits of people", and the scene as "strange and incredulous." After the war, the Canadian and Allied dead were reburied in special cemeteries in France and Belgium, each grave with a white rectangular grave marker.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0770
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0770

Canadian Artillery in Action
Painted by Kenneth Forbes in 1918

This painting shows a Canadian six-inch howitzer supporting British troops in the attack on Thiepval on 16 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The artist, Kenneth Forbes, had been in the front line trenches for over two years and was wounded twice and gassed. In an interview, he remarked that artillery officers helped him ensure the accuracy portrayed in this work.
Beaverbrook Collection of War ArtCWM 19710261-0142
Beaverbrook Collection of War ArtCWM 19710261-0142

Over the Top, Neuville-Vitasse
Painted by Alfred Bastien in 1918

Neuville-Vitasse was a heavily-fortified German village that anchored the Drocourt-Quéant Line. The 22nd Battalion attacked east of here in late August 1918. Georges Vanier, later the Governor General of Canada, always maintained that he was the officer holding the pistol in the front of the painting.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0056
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0056

The Artist's Own Dug-Out on the Albert-Braye Roadside
Painted by William Topham in 1916

This painting depicts artist William Topham's own living quarters near the front. The dreary browns and greens suggest the mud and filth of the trenches, while the details such as the socks hung to dry give the painting a domestic, cozy air. Most ordinary soldiers did not enjoy this level of accommodation.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0755

Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0755

Land Girls Hoeing
Painted by Manly MacDonald in 1918

The director of the National Gallery of Canada, Eric Brown, invited Manly MacDonald to paint near Belleville, Ontario for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. Brown even suggested subject matter for MacDonald. "I think there should be some fine landscape subjects in connection with girls' work on the land, farming of various kinds, fruit picking etc; the clothes are picturesque and this side of the war work should certainly be pictured."
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0370
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0370

War in the Air
Painted by Christopher Nevinson in 1918

Nevinson became an official war artist in July 1917, working primarily for the British. The markings on the plane in this painting are characteristic of the Nieuport 17 flown by Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop. The painting reputedly depicts Bishop in action. Nevinson's painting also shows three enemy aircraft above the clouds, through which you can see the Somme countryside.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0517
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0517

The Unveiling of the Vimy Ridge Memorial
Painted by Georges Bertin Scott in 1937

This painting commemorates the unveiling of the First World War Vimy Ridge memorial in France on 26 July 1936. The events and ceremonies associated with the unveiling are collectively known as the Vimy Pilgrimage. Scott depicts King Edward VIII in the very front. Mrs Charlotte Wood, Canada's first Silver Cross Mother, can be seen towards the back.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 20020045-425
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 20020045-425

Second World War

Posted to Newfie
Painted by Paul Goranson in 1942

Military personnel could be seen everywhere on the home front. This painting by Paul Goranson depicts the mingling of civilians and soldiers on a train in Newfoundland.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-3199
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-3199

Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland
Painted by Alex Colville in 1946

Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland shows a group of soldiers trudging wearily towards the viewer along a muddy Dutch road in December 1944. Colville said the painting "expressed the terrible life that they had; lack of sleep, food, exposure, constant danger. It's amazing that people endured. They did, these ordinary young guys."
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-2079
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-2079

D-Day - the Assault
Painted by Orville Fisher in 1945

War artist Orville Fisher landed with the 3rd Canadian Division on Juno Beach. The Germans had tipped the beach obstacles, used for cover by Canadian soldiers, with explosives to destroy landing craft and stop advancing tanks.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-6231
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-6231

Casualty on the Beach at Dieppe
Drawing by Alfred Hierl in 1945

In a controversial effort to test the strength of Germany's Atlantic coast defences, 4,963 Canadians of the 2nd Canadian Division participated in the assault on Dieppe, France, on August 19, 1942. The raid was a disaster. Seventy per cent of the Canadians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Hierl was one of a number of German official war artists who witnessed the carnage and painted it.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5976
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5976

Forming Bulkhead Girders
Painted by Caven Atkins in 1942

In this Toronto shipbuilding scene, the presence of a 'V for Victory' banner in the background reminds the viewer of the purpose of the activity depicted. Atkins believed that painting war-related industries on the home front was important because without it "no war can be fought, let alone won."
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5657
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5657

Night Target, Germany
Painted by Miller Brittain in 1946

Bomb aimer Miller Brittain wrote to his parents in 1944: "The night attacks although they are deadly are very beautiful from our point of view. The target is like an enormous lighted Christmas tree twenty miles away but straight beneath one looks like pictures I have seen of the mouth of hell." Miller later wrote to his parents that while he felt this painting was an accurate depiction of night attacks, "I don't like it yet as a picture. In fact at the moment, I feel like putting my foot through it."
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-1436
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-1436

Parachute Riggers
Painted by Paraskeva Clark in 1947

The National Gallery of Canada commissioned Clark to paint women in the services in 1944. After spending some time with the Wrens (Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service), Clark "lost all hope to see 'any drama' there. But I found exciting enough the fact that in some of the activities, women performed the jobs, previously done by men and thus, released (perhaps) some men for fighting duties or for war industries." Clark found the assignment challenging, noting in a letter that the real story of women in wartime was to be found in their homes.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5679
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5679

Morning Parade
Painted by Pegi MacLeod in 1944

In this painting, Canadian Women's Army Corps (CWAC) personnel march on parade in Ottawa. The National Gallery of Canada hired MacLeod to depict the women's services in Ottawa in 1944 and 1945.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5784
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5784

Passing?
Painted by Thomas Beament in 1943

Eleven exhausted sailors from a recently torpedoed merchant vessel sit in a battered raft in this painting by Harold Beament. The sailors are trying to signal though the fog to a fast-moving ship that seems to be passing them by. It is doubtful whether or not the passing destroyer will notice them as the raft is difficult to see among the waves.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-1042
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-1042

Peacekeeping

Incoming
Painted by Edward Zuber in 1978

This painting shows soldiers of B Company, the Royal Canadian Regiment reacting to a communist artillery attack on their section of the line on 23 October 1952. The 45 minute bombardment was one of the heaviest Canadians endured in Korea. As an 18- year old art student and photographer's apprentice, Zuber enlisted in the military in 1950. After two years as a parachutist, he became a sniper. Zuber carried a sketch book with him throughout his Korean service, details from which can be found in several of his paintings.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19890328-008
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19890328-008

The Eagle Dance

This print depicts a Nehiyaw or Plains Cree Eagle Dancer. The Eagle Dance marked the organization and preparation of a war party or its victorious return. Individual dancers also recited their service or war record.
Courtesy of Don McLeay
Courtesy of Don McLeay

TOPP HIGH
Painted by Edward Zuber in 1991

In 1991, Ted Zuber was appointed an official war artist to document Canadian participation in the first Persian Gulf war. On his third night in the Gulf, a Scud missile struck at about 11 pm. He raced for the bomb shelter and was the first one there. It was pitch black until someone else switched on a battery-operated light that reflects off the gas masks in the painting. TOPP is an acronym for 'Threat Oriented Personal Protection' and 'High' means you have to put on everything by way of full protection.


Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19960062-014
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19960062-014

Coalition Soldiers, Khandahar Air Base, July 2003
Painted by Allan MacKay in 2004

After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, Canada joined an international campaign against terrorism. Operation Apollo was Canada's military contribution to the war in Afghanistan from October 2001 to October 2003. This painting depicts a soldier in camouflage, Jeremiah Wallace, two Afghan men, and an armoured vehicle at Khandahar Airfield in July 2003.
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 20040060-001
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM  20040060-001
    Date created: October 27, 2006 | Last updated: October 7, 2009