Francis Forster

May 1, 2002 by Jennifer Morse


Travel and adventure have been a big part of war artist ‘s life. Born in 1907 in Calcutta, India, he and his family immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto in 1928. He studied art in London, England, and Paris and held teaching positions in Ontario before his life took another significant turn in 1943. That’s when the National Gallery of Canada asked him to paint a merchant navy convoy from Halifax to Jamaica.

Forster went into the job with enthusiasm, believing it would pave the way to more opportunities.

In October 1944, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. The works created during his earlier run with the merchant navy served as a bridge to his commission as a war artist in November of that year. However, before Forster accepted the role of war artist he wanted assurance that he would not be tied down to a conventional style of painting. “If they are looking for minutely factual drawings of great technical clarity and detail, then I am not their man—for all esthetic values aside I am not interested in producing imitation Goransons,” he wrote in a 1944 letter to the War Artists Committee. The latter part of the quote is in reference to war artist Paul Goranson who was highly regarded for his literal and illustrative paintings.

Boom Defence Gears.

During World War II, Forster was welcomed because of the unusual quality of his work. He painted Motor Torpedo Boats, the artificial Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches, and other naval subjects in and around the English Channel.

The works he produced were modern and stylized. He never stopped experimenting with the medium and style of his work. He was always open to new ideas and ventures. His gouache canvases have a monochromatic look and the focus is centred on his composition and movement. Even in the quietest canvas, the brush strokes swirl—restless in the sepia paints. Like the ocean, Forster was seldom still.

After the war, he returned to Canada where he exhibited regularly. He lived in Montreal, then moved to Mexico before settling in London, England.

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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:

Wreckage On Beach Near Newhaven, England.

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