Harold Beament’s paintings depict wartime on the Atlantic. The above image is titled Passing?
Harold Beament’s paintings of the Atlantic vary from soft grey blue coloured pencil, to navy pastels to verdant green oils. And like the sea, Beament had more than one face because he was both a commander and an artist.
“During my actual service as a war artist it was kind of difficult to separate the naval officer from the war artist…. I’d be very pleased with the canvas when I went to bed, but I’d wake up in the morning and of course the canvas was right in front of me and I’d think, good God, I wouldn’t put to sea in that vessel if it was the last thing I did. It’s not seaworthy and I’d start making it seaworthy from the naval officer’s point of view and constipation would set in–that’s spiritual constipation–not the other kind.”
Beament was born in Ottawa and in 1917 enlisted as an ordinary seaman in what was then known as the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve. He served in the North Atlantic and rose to the rank of warrant officer telegrapher. Although the sea and art were his twin passions, his father insisted he take up a profession after the war. In deference to him, Beament enrolled in law school but also studied at the Ontario College of Art. In 1924, after one of his paintings was accepted by the Royal Canadian Academy, he turned to art as a full-time career.
St. John’s From Signal Hill.
When World War II was declared, Beament enlisted once more. He commanded small patrol vessels in the St. Lawrence and then spent a year as captain of the Bangor-class minesweeper Vegreville. In 1943, he was appointed senior naval war artist and promoted to commander. In a 1979 interview he explained that the promotion made him the world’s senior war artist. “I didn’t get that because I painted any better pictures than anyone else,” he said during the same interview. “I was due for it because I’d been pounding around on the Atlantic for two years in command of ships.”
That familiarity with his subject is visible in every painting. His work is precise and the powerful seas dominate. His respect for the Atlantic is clear in every stroke. His brush is steady as she goes.
Beament stayed in uniform until 1947, but remained on the reserve list until the early 1970s. During his military service, he served in two world wars, and mastered two divergent careers with one clear vision. The contrast of artist and commander combined in Beament to portray wartime on the Atlantic with purpose and grace. He died in Montreal in 1984.
Email the writer at: email@example.com
Email a letter to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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