War Art

Will Ogilvie
War Art

Will Ogilvie

Canada has sent thousands of soldiers and a number of artists to war, and both roles have remained distinct and perhaps opposite in nature. Soldiers are trained, as best as they can be, for the grim environment of war, but the artist is in alien territory trying to record his surroundings with sensitivity and nuance—a setting he has little training for. The two vocations are disconnected, yet Will Ogilvie excelled at both. He endured years of wartime service on battlefields and simultaneously produced watercolours that stand among the best in this country. Born at Stutterheim, South Africa, in March 1901, Ogilvie moved to Toronto in his mid-20s and by 1932 had established himself as a promising artist. He enlisted early in the Second World War and went to work as an army staff artis...
Tom Bjarnason
War Art

Tom Bjarnason

Born in 1925 at Winnipeg, Tom Bjarnason was the last of eight children. His love affair with airplanes began the moment he got close enough to touch one. He remembers being six or seven years old—walking for hours to get to Stevenson Field, now the location of Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. “I could see these airplanes…sitting right there, and I was touching the fabric. It was a thrill I never, ever got over.” For years Bjarnason had dreamed of becoming a pilot, but a vision problem in his right eye ensured his dream would never come to pass. He was conscripted in the army as a signalman and was then sent to England in January 1944. Within a year he was returned to a Winnipeg hospital suffering from pleurisy. “In England I was never warm once. It was like...
John W. Beatty
War Art

John W. Beatty

John Beatty had a boisterous start in life. Born in Toronto in 1869, he was expelled from school at age 13 and by 16, itching for adventure, was enlisted and served as a bugle boy in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Following the surrender of Louis Riel, Beatty returned home and worked at an assortment of jobs until he was 18, at which time—against his parents’ wishes—he joined the Toronto Fire Department. It was a good fit for the lively, outspoken young man. Indeed, up until the time of his death in 1941, he was known as the fireman turned artist. After serving 11 years as a fireman, Beatty left to study art at the Académie Julien in Paris, France. He never looked back. Upon his return to Canada he was determined to shake off the European styles. He believed Canada’s rugged wil...
T.R. MacDonald
War Art

T.R. MacDonald

We were given a jeep and a driver and left to do something called war art…. We received our supplies of paint, brushes and things in London before we went over; I took oil and a paintbox and a lot of watercolours.” This was T.R. MacDonald describing his first days as an official war artist in northern Italy during the Second World War. And although the subject of war art was relatively new to him in 1944, by the time he enlisted—in March 1941—MacDonald was a seasoned artist. Born in Montreal in 1908, the artist studied figurative painting and thrived in the stimulating and diverse culture of his hometown. He continued to paint, and after his enlistment served with the Canadian Army’s 7th Reconnaissance Regiment. Within a few years he was put to work as a service artist. Commissioned...
William MacDonnell
War Art

William MacDonnell

The bleak quietness of William MacDonnell’s canvases is strangely threatening, and this is quite deliberate. The scenic painting titled Tragedy On A Country Road marks a place where Canadian soldiers, while driving, hit a landmine in the former Yugoslavia. Even though the viewer cannot help but pick up on the threat, it is obscure and hidden much like the landmines our soldiers often encounter while overseas. At first glance, MacDonnell’s work is idyllic, with no signs of violence. What appears as a quiet winter landscape in the artwork titled In A Forest Near Smolensk is in fact the same place in Russia where approximately 4,500 Polish soldiers were murdered by Stalin’s regime and buried in a mass grave. Many of MacDonnell’s works are dominated by dirty, white skies on which he ...
Christopher R.W. Nevinson
War Art

Christopher R.W. Nevinson

Christopher R.W. Nevinson, one of the earliest war artists, created images of World War I that explored the personal and global consequences of war. While one early painting was censored for its unflinching portrayal of death, others portrayed close-ups of wounded and worn soldiers; still others were distant landscapes that spoke to the industrial growth of the period and how that changed the face of war. The artist was born in 1889 in London, England. His parents were well-known journalists—his father an author and war correspondent, his mother a writer and suffragette. Unlike many of his peers, Nevinson’s family supported his career choice, and its prominence and contacts proved invaluable. In London he studied at the St. John’s Wood School of Art, the Slade School of Art, and lat...

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