NEW! Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Jack Nichols

The war art of Jack Nichols includes from top to bottom: Normandy Scene, Beach in ‘Gold’ Area; Drowning Sailor; Troops in Hospital.

Jack Nichols paints people. He has no formal education, but his strong canvases have placed him among the top Canadian artists of his time. He is a classic example of raw talent.

Born in Montreal in 1921, Nichols was orphaned as a child. Consequently, he wasn’t able to afford an education. By the time he was 14, he had worked at a variety of jobs that kept him painting until the money ran out at which point he would find other work and save again for more painting time. He was influenced and encouraged by artists Louis Muhlstock and F.H. Varley.

Nichols, who now resides in Toronto, joined the merchant navy as an ordinary seaman in 1940. Four years later he was appointed an official war artist with the Royal Canadian Navy. He arrived overseas in time to cross the English Channel on D-Day. He remained in Normandy until the fall of Caen and then returned to London to develop his drawing. The impact that the war had on him is clear in his war art.

There is a heaviness to his work. Swirling fabric and dense composition leaves little room for lightness of spirit. The emotion of war is perfectly depicted. Despair drenches his canvases, overwhelming the viewer. Even in the painting Troops in Hospital there is only temporary relief from the threat of death.

Following the war, Nichols won a Guggenheim fellowship for creative painting. This allowed him to travel and paint in the United States for a year. He spent most of the time in the studios of printmakers where he proved his talents as an artist and printmaker.

During the early 1960s, the artist’s health interfered with the time he could devote to painting and drawing; he has only worked intermittently since, but his work serves to remind us of the emotional toll of war.

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has 43 Nichols works. Twenty nine of his black and white drawings will be displayed at the museum from April 10 until early September.

Email the writer at:

Email a letter to the editor at:

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:


Sign up today for a FREE download of Canada’s War Stories

Free e-book

An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.