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Canadian War Artists

· Fine Book Collecting,Art Books,Maritime Realism,Alex Colville,Wartime Artist

Last week, I was showing a friend one of the volumes of the French L’Illustration from the First World War. This was a weekly periodical and as such with its folio sized pages it was similar to the London Illustrated News. We have 10 volumes of L’Illustration from 1914 to 1919, a total of some 5,000 pages. Naturally, the focus was on the war front and the illustrations were a mix of photographs and artwork. The artists were primarily French and some of their illustrations were outstanding.

As I mentioned to my friend, Canada had some great war artists as well. And that led me to this week’s musing topic. I have chosen two of our books on the subject, the first of which has been sold, but, of course, we have retained details of the on-line posting and the photographs used. So the following photos and text are from our on-line postings.

Canvas of War - Painting the Canadian Experience 1914 to 1945; Dean F. Oliver, Laura Brandon, foreword by J. L. Granatstein; Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver; Canadian War Museum, Ottawa; Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, Hull; 2000. First edition. From the blurb – During the First and Second World Wars, in which thousands of Canadians served, the country commissioned some of its finest artists to capture history in the making. Nearly 13,000 paintings and drawings, now housed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, constitute the largest collection of Canadian war art anywhere. This superb book weaves 110 of these full-colour, seldom-seen Canadian war art images, mesmerizing works produced on the battlefield, with archival photographs and an evocative and informative text. The result is a stunning visual and historical record of Canada’s experience of war, by such renowned artists as A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Mabel May, and Alfred Munnings – and in the Second World War, Alex Colville, Charles Comfort, Molly Lamb Bobak and Jack Shadbolt.

Alex Colville – Diary of a War Artist; compiled by Graham Metson and Cheryl Lean; Nimbus Publishing Limited, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1981. Presentation copy signed by Alex Colville. David Alexander Colville (1920 – 2013) was a Canadian painter. Born in 1920 in Toronto, Ontario, Colville moved with his family at age seven to St. Catharines, and then to Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1929. He attended Mount Allison University from 1938 to 1942, where he studied under Canadian Post-Impressionists like Stanley Royle and Sarah Hart, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Colville married Rhoda Wright, who he had been friends with since his freshman year at "Mount A," in 1942 and he enlisted in the Canadian Army shortly afterwards. He enlisted in the infantry, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant. He painted in Yorkshire and took part in the Royal Canadian Navy's landings in southern France. He was then attached to the 3rd Canadian Division. After being in the army for two years, and because he was a fine-arts student, he was made a war artist in May 1944. His unit relieved the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen, Netherlands in mid-September 1944 during Operation Market Garden and remained there until the following February. He continued on to tours in the Netherlands and Germany, where he was also tasked with depicting the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This book comprises the drawings and paintings from this period in war-torn Europe. After the war, Colville returned to New Brunswick and became a faculty member with the Fine Arts Department at Mount Allison University. He taught there from 1946 to 1963. Colville developed his own style of Realism that influenced both a regional and national art community, as teacher and founder of what would become known as Maritime Realism. Alex Colville's work is found in many collections including the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Cape Breton University Art Gallery in Sydney, Nova Scotia, the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne and the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover, Germany. Trained as an infantry officer, he did a painting when World War II ended. Based upon numerous drawings, it was called Infantry and is now in the Canadian War Museum. It represents a platoon of Canadian soldiers spread out and marching along both sides of a road. Colville believed it conveyed his perception of war, as both heroism and enduring persistence among nature's elements and constant danger. The face of the first man is actually a portrait of the artist's father. This painting is one of the iconic depictions of Canadian soldiers at war in Europe and it is reproduced on pages 90 and 91 of this book. Other famous works by Colville include: Horse and Train; Man on Verandah, Ocean Limited, to Prince Edward Island, and Cyclist and Crow. Colville is considered to be the realist Canadian painter in the second half of the twentieth century. His works are now selling in the millions of dollars.

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