Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Apple Picking and Land Girls Hoeing, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

In 1918, the Canadian War Memorials Fund commissioned paintings and sculptures depicting women’s work on the home front as part of its project to document Canada’s participation in the war. Manly Edward MacDonald painted scenes of women working in the fields, including Apple Picking and Land Girls Hoeing. They are now part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art at the Canadian War Museum. 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 – Drummer Boy, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

Lionel Fosbery’s sculpture, Drummer Boy, is part of a display of small sculptures at the Canadian War Museum depicting WW1 jobs at home and in the field. The museum tag says: “This sculpture portrays a boy in full military uniform beating a drum. Military bands overseas employed boys as young as 10 or 12 years old as drummers, a role often performed by cadets in Canada.” Continue reading


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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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A Terrible Beauty and Canvas of War

It is logical that artists should be part of the organization of total war, whether to provide inspiration, information, or comment on the glory or the stupidity of war. (A.Y. Jackson, in Canvas of War, p 19)

War broke down old preconceptions, old inhibitions; it offered subject matter – death, mutilation, destruction – they had never dealt with before. They had to render the obscene tolerable, the ugly beautiful, create life out of death. Under the stress of this dance macabre, some painters created extraordinary and unforgettable works of art.  (A Terrible Beauty, p 15)

The Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF) was established with a view to immortalizing the Canadian contribution to the war. Now the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art of the Canadian War Museum, the ultimate collection is the largest visual record of the war.

Exhibits immediately following the war were popular, but interest quickly waned. Most of the works remain in storage, although more are on view in the new museum building that opened in 2005. Interest seems to increase on milestone anniversaries or when Canadians are once again at war.

From time to time the paintings and sculpture form the core of special exhibits. A Terrible Beauty and Canvas of War are catalogues from two major exhibits that dusted off some of the paintings and found different ways to make them relevant for new audiences. Both examined the war art programs from WW1 and WW2. I read the WW1 parts.

Temporary exhibits live on through catalogues. They are the next best thing for those who missed the main event, also engendering a hint of regret at not seeing the art in real life. 

A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War

A Terrible Beauty toured regional galleries across Canada from late 1977 to early 1980. Heather Robertson’s catalogue juxtaposes colour reproductions of the paintings (and a few sculptures) with an anthology of texts. The excerpts from letters, journals, memoirs, poems and the like are firsthand accounts by those who lived through the war, mostly on the front lines. (Not clear if the texts were part of the exhibit.) The selection of paintings shows CWMF work from the Western front and the home front.

Great concept, executed with varying success. At times, texts and paintings complement each other, giving greater context. At times, they are an odd and uncomfortable match – for example the account of a deserter shot at dawn opposite sculptures of munitions workers. Texts by the same author are scattered throughout the book, leaving readers to discover connections by chance.

Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945

Canvas of War, Masterpieces from the Canadian War Museum was a blockbuster exhibit, on display at the Museum of Civilization in 2000 then touring to eight other Canadian cities from 2001 to 2004. It was billed as the biggest touring show of war art ever mounted in Canada.

The accompanying catalogue is by Dean F. Oliver and Laura Brandon. In addition to the colour reproductions, it includes two essays about WW1. Born in Battle gives a brief history of the Canadians in the war zone and on the home front, as the foundation of the nation-building mythology. The Face of Armageddon looks at the role of the artists and the CWMF in that mythology. The authors also say that the artists’ war experience was a “major building block” in the evolution of Canadian art, most notably the formation of the Group of Seven.

Short of a visit to the National Gallery, the Canadian War Museum or a special exhibit where the war art is on view, these books are worth a look. A bonus is seeing colour reproductions that were only in black and white in Art at the Service of War.


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian War Art, Senate Chamber, Ottawa

Eight large paintings from the Canadian War Memorials Fund were loaned to Parliament in 1921 for temporary display in the new Centre Block. Just as another temporary measure of WW1 – income taxes – is still with us, the paintings became a permanent part of the Senate Chamber.

The public tour admits groups only to the back of the chamber, so it is hard to get a good photo. The Senators get the best view.

 Opposition Senators get a good view of the west wall. From left to right:

  • Railway Construction in France, Leonard Richmond
  • A Mobile Veterinary Unit in France, Algernon Talmage
  • Arras, the Dead City, James Kerr-Lawson
  • The Watch on the Rhine (The Last Phase), William Rothenstein

Government Senators get a good view of the east wall. From left to right:

  • On Leave, Claire Atwood
  • Returning to the Reconquered Land, George Clausen
  • The Cloth Hall, Ypres, James Kerr-Lawson
  • Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire, 1915, Edgar Bundy

You can see more about each painting on the Senate website.


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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 – No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens, Ottawa

This painting by Gerald Moira hangs in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. It is part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.

In late 1916, after seven months in Boulonge, No 3 Stationary Hospital was sent to Doullens, north of Amiens, France. It was housed in a 15th century citadel outside the town, well away from military and railway installations for fear of bombing attacks. During the Allied retreat in the spring of 1918, the hospital was very active. It was bombed on the last two days of May. Two surgeons, three nursing sisters, four patients, and sixteen orderlies were killed.