Leonard Brooks

January 1, 2001 by Jennifer Morse

Canadian war artist Leonard Brooks painted the day-to-day life of military service in the Royal Canadian Navy. He used sombre greys and blues to imbue each canvas with the mood of the sea during World War II. We can almost feel the wind and the wash of the sea depicted in his canvases.

Born in London, England, in 1911, Brooks arrived in Canada with his parents in 1912. As a young man he spent six months at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto before heading to Europe in 1933. In 1934, he returned to Toronto where he painted with artists from the Group of Seven and later taught at a technical school.

Brooks left his teaching job in May 1943 to join the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was appointed an official war artist in August 1944 and the following year was promoted to lieutenant. While overseas, Brooks painted the activities of minesweepers and motor torpedo boats in the English Channel off Normandy. Brooks also did a painting of an aircraft carrier off the coast of Scotland.

Rough Weather, Minesweeper Bridge.

At sea he captured the essence of moment-to-moment activities by producing quick watercolours and sketches. He used these roughs for his final paintings. “It’s a terrible challenge, especially as everybody else has their duties and disciplines, and to have the freedom and be allowed to do this is a great privilege and it’s a great thing to bear,” Brooks said during a 1998 interview at the Canadian War Museum. “These paintings have left a legacy of truthful seeing and feeling, and caught for posterity some of the deep and terrible days of courageous despair and brave hopes for a better future.”

After leaving the military in 1946, Brooks spoke out against the low pay and lack of recognition for Canadian artists. In 1947, he began receiving an $80-a-month grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He then made the decision to move to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he resides today.

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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: Imageservices@warmuseum.ca

Letting the Anchor Out.

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