Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – War Widow and Recording Angel, Peace Tower, Ottawa

Enter the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower in Ottawa, turn around and look up to see two sculptures by Frances Loring. In the gable tympanum is the Recording Angel, inscribing the names of the fallen in the Book of Remembrance. On the finial above is the War Widow and Children, also called Motherhood. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Edith Cavell and Canadian Nurses, Toronto, ON

British nurse Edith Cavell was executed on October 12, 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape occupied Belgium. Her death became a rallying cry for the Allies.

The Edith Cavell Memorial Society in Toronto raised money for a memorial to Cavell and Canadian nurses, and sought permission from the Toronto General Hospital to place it on the hospital grounds at the SE corner of College and University Avenues. Florence Wyle was chosen to design the sculpture. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Furnace Girl and The Rod Turner, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

Happy International Women’s Day, a day early. For the occasion, we feature two more sculptures by Frances Loring.

Loring and Florence Wyle were born in the US and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. They moved to Toronto in 1913, where they were collectively known as The Girls. In 1918, they were commissioned to do a series of sculptures of “girl war workers” as part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Law Society of Upper Canada, Toronto

A glorious memorial to Ontario lawyers and law students killed in WW1 stands on the east wall of the Great Library in Osgoode Hall, on Queen St W at the corner of University Ave in Toronto. Frances Loring designed the figure, which stands before a marble tablet of names. It was dedicated by Lt Governor Ross on the 10 November 1928.

Christine Boyanoski describes the statue as an allegorical figure of “a young man casting off the robes of daily life in the service of humanity.” (Loring and Wyle: Sculptors’ Legacy, p 35) The inscription “These laid the world away” is a line from Rupert Brooke’s The Dead.

Every profession contributed to the war effort. Lawyers were no exception. The Law Society of Upper Canada, the governing body for lawyers in Ontario, encouraged lawyers and law students to enlist. Of about 300 lawyers and over 200 students who served, 113 did not return. There were likely fewer than 2000 lawyers and students in Ontario at the time.

In November 2014, the law society marked the WW1 centenary by granting the 59 fallen law students an honorary call to the bar. My only regret in being out of the country then was that I could not attend the event.

The law society’s virtual museum tells more about the war memorial: These Laid the World Away: The World War I Memorial at Osgoode Hall. The Honour Roll profiles the lawyers and law students whose names are on the memorial. You can read more about each student in Patrick Shea’s book on The Great War Law Student Memorial Project. He also gives a good outline of Canada’s military contribution to the war.

(Don’t look for women here. Although Ontario was the first jurisdiction in the Commonwealth to admit a woman to the bar, in 1897, there were only five women lawyers in Ontario before WW1. Another six were called to the bar during the war. Many more by the time I became a lawyer.)

This year’s regrets: I was unable to accept an invitation to the Lt Governor’s reception to mark the 100th anniversary of the Soldiers’ Aid Commission of Ontario and could not attend Artists Remember for Peace in Kingston, including parts of The World Remembers project.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Noon Hour and the Blacksmith, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

It’s Labour Day in Canada and the US … a day to celebrate workers. In honour of Labour Day, here are two more of Florence Wyle’s sculptures of war workers on the home front … these ones taking a break from their hard labour.

Wyle and Frances Loring were commissioned by the War Memorial Funds Committee to do a series of sculptures of “girl war workers” as part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war. After touring munitions plants, Wyle decided to include some male workers, too.

Now part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, these and some of the other bronzes from the Loring and Wyle commission are on display in the lobby of the Canadian War Museum until 2017. Some have been in storage for almost 100 years. I hope the War Museum keeps them on permanent display. 


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Art or Memorial? and Beyond the Battlefield

My quest to learn about war memorials and war art has taken me down a longer trail than expected – eight books in all – with some interesting twists along the way. I take an expansive view of what belongs in my Monday Monuments and Memorials feature – statues, cenotaphs, plaques, grave markers, sculptures, ephemera and many other remembrances of the war. My aim is to put them in better context. (Always with the caveat that my summary review cannot do justice to the full analysis in these books.) 

Art or Memorial? The Forgotten History of Canada’s War Art

The crux of the issue is in the title of this book by Laura Brandon. She was in a good place see the role of the individuals, communities and government agencies – and the context of culture and politics – in the social construction of the memory of war. Until recently she was curator of the large collection of war art at the Canadian War Museum.

Beaverbrook started a war art program as propaganda and to commemorate the war. His vision of a memorial gallery to house the art didn’t come to fruition. Instead, local communities built statues and other memorials. They needed to forget the images of war.

Still, public opinions of the works evolve over time. Exhibits like A Terrible Beauty and Canvas of War, in the context of new-found patriotism in commemorating the 50th anniversary of WW2, helped to make the art a locus of memory.

Brandon concludes that the official war art collection “has functioned as an under-recognized war memorial or ‘site of memory’ but that concern with the works as art has obscured their deeper, collective significance.” (p xiii)

 

Beyond the Battlefield: Women Artists of the Two World Wars

Catherine Speck’s Beyond the Battlefield looks beyond official war art schemes to find “a womanly perspective on war and wartime.” (p 7) She introduces 62 women artists from Allied countries (Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and the prejudices that curtailed their working conditions and their oeuvres. Some have international reputations, others are more obscure. (I was introduced to many for the first time.) Together, they give visibility to women’s experience of the war.

Most of the women were not part of the official war art programs … they were subjected to the masculine idea that war artists needed personal experience of conditions at the front. And women would not be sent to the front. In Canada, some women artists were engaged to depict life on the home front. In Britain, the Women’s Work Subcommittee of the Imperial War Museum was tasked with documenting what women did during the war. So at least some of the official programs moved away from the battlefields. But the “home front” programs were not as well funded and the women were generally paid less than the men. Many artists (women and men) were expected to donate their work or accept meagre payment.

Speck’s chapters on WW1 look at women on the home front, behind the front and after the war. The home front art shows that “the stereotype that it was a place of inaction and ‘waiting’ is wholly inaccurate.” (p13) Behind the front, she challenges the perspective of a dichotomy of spaces, male-only front and female dominated home front. Women nurses and voluntary aides moved in an in-between space behind the front. Some of them were artists. Immediately after the war, some women artists ventured into the former war zones to paint the repairing landscape. Mary Riter Hamilton wrote of her time in France:

I feel it is very fortunate that I arrived before it is too late to get a real impression. The changes are taking place rapidly and even in the short time I have been here I can see a great change. In another few months there will be very little trace of the war. (p 97)

Speck provides brief biographies of the artists. The book is illustrated with colour reproductions of the art, but lacks information on where to find each piece. (The only clues are in the photo credits.) That will make it more challenging for me to seek out the works of the women artists of WW1 … Anna Airy, Claire Atwood, Martha Moffatt Bache, Cecilia Beaux, Anna Richards Brewster, Florence Carlyle, Evelyn Chapman, Edith Collier, Joyce Dennys, Olive Edis, Mary Riter Hamilton, Helen Hyde, Nellie Isaac, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Phyllis Keyes, Flora Lion, Beatrice Lithby, Frances Loring, Henrietta Mabel May, Dora Meeson Coates, Victoria Monkhouse, Olive Mudie-Cooke, Norah Neilson Gray, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Elizabeth Nourse, Jane Peterson, Margaret Preston, Isobel (Iso) Rae, Grace Ravlin, Helen Saunders, Grace Cossington Smith, Janet Cumbrae Stewart, Olive Wood, Ursula Wood and Florence Wyle.


 

Mary Riter Hamilton’s post-war paintings are now in the collection of Library and Archives Canada. LAC features many of them online in Mary Riter Hamilton: Traces of War.

According to LAC, “Hamilton refused to sell any of her battlefield paintings, choosing instead to donate the canvases to the National Archives (now part of Library and Archives Canada). She wanted them to remain in the hands of all Canadians for the benefit of war veterans and their descendants.”

Maria Tippett tells a different story: “Unable to find a purchaser for her collection, she presented it to the National Archives of Canada in 1926.” (By a Lady, p 58)

Wouldn’t sell or couldn’t sell … which account rings true to you?


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Art at the Service of War

Monday Monuments and Memorials started as a way to ensure regular posts on this blog. My reading habits can make the timing of book reviews haphazard, but I can count on a weekly photo. I take an expansive view of what belongs – war art fits as much as cenotaphs and other tributes to the war and those who participated.

References to the Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF) keep cropping up for various paintings and sculptures around Ottawa. You know me … I’m off to learn more.

Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art, and the Great War, the 1984 published version of Maria Tippett’s thesis, is a scholarly analysis of the people and politics of the CWMF. She examines the making of the art as well as the CWMF administration. The artwork that illustrates her points is reproduced in the book. (Unfortunately they’re in black and white, but colour reproductions can be found online for the most part … some on this very site).

The CWMF was set up in London in November 1916 by newspaper baron Max Aitken (he was later Lord Beaverbrook), with a view to immortalizing the Canadian contribution to the war. Art would be used for propaganda in the short term and for an historical record in the long term. Photos and cinema of the time were not long-lasting, so could not be fully relied on for the job.

The cost to the Canadian government was little. Artists who were hired received an officer’s rank and pay, but the CWMF was almost entirely paid for by private funds. Over 100 painters and sculptors were associated with the CWMF.

Mostly British artists were engaged. Many were also commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee (later the British Pictorial Propaganda Committee) – Bone, Orpen, Nash, Nevinson, Kennington, Lewis, Rothenstein and John, amongst others. (Overlap was inevitable: Beaverbrook eventually headed the British Department of Information.) The CWMF also gave opportunities to Canadian artists – like Cullen, Jackson, Lismer, MacDonald, Milne and Varley – albeit only from the Anglophone male art communities in Toronto and Montreal. The home front program engaged some women, including Carlyle, May, Loring and Wyle. The CWMF also acquired historical paintings of significance to Canada.

The CWMF gave “an unprecedented and wide-ranging number of artists an opportunity to express their war experiences in bronze, watercolour, and oil at a time when it might have been considered frivolous to do so.” (p 4)

The ultimate collection is the largest visual record of the war.

Immediately following the war, highlights of the collection formed popular exhibits in London, New York, Montreal and Toronto. Then disinterest:

While the CWMF collection was being broken up and Canada’s Golgotha hidden away, war monuments and trophies were being erected across the country. Every city and most towns had at least one ‘Lest We Forget’ monument; every service club a trophy of war. The new Parliament Buildings had a Peace Tower with a carillon and a Memorial Chamber with Books of Remembrance. These works – cenotaphs, memorial sculptures, war trophies … embodied an idea rather than the artistic expression of an event. Unlike most of the works of the CWMF, they could possess any meaning the viewer wished to give them: sacrifice, waste, sorrow, pride, even redemption. (p 103)

The plan was always to hand the collection over to the Canadian government. Beaverbrook’s vision was to house it in a dedicated war memorial building in Ottawa. That was never realised. Instead the collection was transferred to the National Gallery of Canada and mostly kept in storage. Eight large canvases were sent to hang in the new Senate Chamber, where they remain today:

  • Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire, 1915, Edgar Bundy
  • A Mobile Veterinary Unit in France, Algernon Talmage
  • Railway Construction in France, Leonard Richmond
  • Arras, the Dead City, James Kerr-Lawson
  • On Leave, Claire Atwood
  • The Cloth Hall, Ypres, James Kerr-Lawson
  • The Watch on the Rhine (The Last Phase), William Rothenstein
  • Returning to the Reconquered Land, George Clausen

Eventually the National Gallery transferred the collection (except the historical paintings and paintings by David Milne) to the Canadian War Museum. Again, most remain in storage, although more are on view since the new museum building opened in 2005. They form the core of special exhibits from time to time. Interest in the collection seems to increase on significant anniversaries or when Canadians are once again at war. I will examine some of these exhibits in a later post.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Munitions Worker and The Shell Finisher, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

Happy International Women’s Day, a day late. In honour, here are two more statues from Frances Loring’s and Florence Wyle’s 1918 commission of sculptures of “girl war workers”, part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war. Munitions Worker is by Wyle. The Shell Finisher by Loring is balancing two shells on her shoulders. Each statue is about two feet high.

Loring and Wyle were born in the US and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. They moved to Toronto in 1913, where they were collectively known as The Girls.

Christine Boyanoski talks about the war sculptures in Loring and Wyle: Sculptors’ Legacy:

Both Women have used the folds in the workers’ garments to enliven the surface and underline the action being performed, to the point where the uniforms seem drenched, revealing the underlying anatomy. Florence’s surfaces are more detailed, having been broken up by a system of meaningful lines and creases. Frances has paid less attention to detail; the surfaces are broader, less broken up by folds, which are used more to describe lines of force. (pp 23-25)

Now part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, these and some of the other bronzes from the Loring and Wyle commission are on display in the lobby of the Canadian War Museum until 2017. Some have been in storage for almost 100 years. I hope the War Museum keeps them on permanent display. 


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Farm Girl and On the Land, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

In 1918, Toronto-based sculptors Florence Wyle and Frances Loring were commissioned to do a series of sculptures of “girl war workers” as part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war. Farm Girl and On the Land are two of Wyle’s sculptures for the project. Each statue is about two feet high, depicting women labourers in the Farm Service Corps.

Now part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, these and some of the other bronzes from the Loring and Wyle commission are on display in the lobby of the Canadian War Museum until 2017. Some have been in storage for almost 100 years. I hope the War Museum keeps them on permanent display. 


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Noon Hour in a Munitions Plant, Ottawa

Noon Hour in a Munitions Plant, Frances Loring

Noon Hour in a Munitions Plant, Frances Loring

Noon Hour in a Munitions Plant is a bronze relief by sculptor Frances Loring. Part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, it now graces the lobby of the Canadian War Museum. Loring and Florence Wyle were commissioned in 1918 to do a series of sculptures of “girl war workers” as part of the project to document Canada’s participation in the war.