Richard Jack

September 1, 1998 by Jennifer Morse

Richard Jack concentrated on the collective triumph rather than the individual agony of war. From top to bottom: Major Ronald I. Jack; The Taking of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday, 1917; an untitled painting.

Richard Jack was Canada’s first official war artist. Born in Sunderland, England, in 1866, the British subject studied at the Académie Julien in Paris, France, before he was hired by Canada to become our first official war artist in 1916.

He held strong opinions on the modern school of art and in 1933 was quoted in the Toronto Telegram as saying: “A glib tongue, rather than a clever brush and an eye for pigment was the main asset of the proponent of the extremist schools.”

Jack was a master draftsman and there was no question that he understood color and form. His grand and romantic style glorified every subject he touched. The 12-foot-by-20-foot canvases of The Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April to 25 May 1915, and The Taking of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday, 1917, are spectacular tributes to the heroism of Canadians at war.

The artist usually worked from a studio and relied on a variety of references, including photographs that were taken of the front. His war art concentrated on the collective triumph rather than the individual agony of war.

Long before he became a war artist, Jack was a well-known portrait painter. His portrait subjects included King Edward VII, King George V and King Alphonso of Spain. He became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Institute of Painters.

Jack moved to Canada in 1927 and settled in Montreal in 1931.

He used his Montreal studio as a base for field trips across Canada, and before his death in 1952—at age 87—he was well known for his Canadian wilderness paintings.

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Many of the Canadian War Museum’s ­holdings are ­available in reproduction at affordable prices. For more information, contact Image Reproduction Services, Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place, Ottawa, ON K1R 0C2; tel: 1-819-776-8686; fax: 1-819-776-8623; e-mail:

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