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from the Halifax Daily News, Canada 19 June 2003

Art of War, grim, moving
by Marilyn Smulders

Two years into the Great War, no one entertained the notion the conflict would be wrapped up in just a few more months. And not many still thought fighting for King and country was such a glorious enterprise.

Certainly not Canadas war artists, who were hired by the Canadian War Memorials Fund, founded by newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, and sent to the French and Belgian front lines to sketch Canadians in battle. I wouldnt be surprised if mud and blood got mixed in with the pigment as artist Innas Meo worked on the massive canvas of Canadians Repairing Track Under Shell-fire, which shows soldiers working doggedly on repairs while chaos surrounds them explosions going off, the dead lying face down in the mire, boots no longer attached to bodies.

I was moved by the terrible beauty the artists conveyed under the most trying conditions. As a second-generation Canadian my parents immigrated from war-starved Holland in the 1950s I was struck by the sacrifice and courage of Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen, and the horrors they faced.

The 72 works are drawn from the Canadian War Museums collection in Ottawa. Until touring began in early 2000, many of the paintings had not been exhibited in more than 80 years; others had never been on display.

There are some incredible works here: Air Flight, a billboard-sized canvas by John Turnball that provides a dizzying look at a dogfight enemy and allied planes twisting through the air with a view of bombed-out Ypres far below; Arthur Lismers spectacular Olympic with Returned Soldiers, showing the Titanics sister ship adorned in dazzle paint while docked in Halifax Harbour; and A.Y. Jacksons A Copse, Evening, a scene of blasted trees on a barren landscape, painted in the distinctive Group of Seven style. Works run the gamut of 20th-century artistic movements, from Impressionist and Post Impressionist to Expressionist and Cubist.

Inspired by the First World War program, Vincent Massey, Canadas High Commissioner in Great Britain, initiated the Second World War art program in 1943. Thirty-one artists including Alex Colville, Frederick Taylor, Charles Comfort and Edwin Holgate were hired to paint activities at home and overseas.

Colvilles paintings sear into the brain. Infantry, Near Nijmegen, Holland, is a signature image of the show, portraying grim-faced soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Infantry marching atop a dyke overlooking the flooded landscape. Created with Colvilles trademark mathematical precision, the line of men is endless and the look on each face is repeated; they are defeated in spirit and lost. More disturbing still is Colvilles Bodies in a Grave, Belsen which captures the death camp in surreal detail.

Admission is free for veterans for the duration of the show, and for military personnel and their families from June 28 to July 1.


Aftermath - when the boys came home

Tuesday 3 May 2005

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