Pegi Nicol MacLeod

May 1, 1999 by Jennifer Morse

Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s abiding respect for Canadian servicewomen is recognized in her war art. From top to bottom: Spoon Bouquet, Shy WRCN and Morning Parade.

Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s paintings are alive with colour and curves. Her war art has a loose and easy style that cheerfully depicts the bustle of the times. In short, there is a nice blending of style and reality to her work.

MacLeod had an abiding respect for the women on Canada’s home front. She compared them to Diana, the ancient goddess of the hunt. She believed that the role of women was worthy of a painted record. “It is unfair enough to leave out the mothers of soldiers, the nurses, the factory girls. What an obvious flaw to neglect also the women in the armed services,” she wrote in Canadian Art Magazine in 1944.

Born Margaret Kathleen Nicol at Listowel, Ont., in 1904, she attended the Ottawa School of Art and the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal. Like many of her peers she lived in poverty throughout the Depression and on through the war years. A major influence for her and on her contemporaries was the Group of Seven.

In 1936, she married and spent most of her life in New York, although she frequently visited Fredericton where she helped establish the Observatory Art Centre. During the summer months between 1940 and 1948, she taught at the University of New Brunswick’s Art Centre. While there, she became fascinated by the work of WW II servicemen and servicewomen.

In 1944, the National Gallery of Canada commissioned her to paint numerous works of servicewomen. She produced 110 paintings in 1944–45 and these are now part of the Canadian War Museum collection. The subject matter for these paintings was the various duties and responsibilities of servicewomen. She depicts them participating in drills and parades. We also see them cleaning, washing and cooking.

It must have been a welcomed relief for her to be paid a little to paint the subject she loved.

Pegi Nicol MacLeod died of cancer in 1949 at age 45. She was a prolific artist and she left a colourful legacy of her blue and khaki Dianas. The Ottawa Art Gallery will be exhibiting her work from May 13 to July 4, 1999.

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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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