Canadian War Artists Were Just as Vital as Soldiers Were During the World Wars

  • Apr 15, 2020

Canada has played a huge role in major wars over the years such as World War I and World War II and, as a result, they have lost many of their people. These brave men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and it is a sacrifice that should never ever be forgotten. Thanks to Canadian war artists, forgetting them is something that is not easily done.


Who Were Canadian War Artists?

Canadian war artists were a group of selected talented artists who were employed to create specific pieces of work during World War 1 and World War II. Their job was to capture the impact of war, not only on the soldiers but also on their wives and families as well. The art would predict people preparing, waiting, fighting, crying, and celebrating. To capture these scenes, they would use different media such as paintings, poetry, stories, photographs and videos. With different types of media, you can get various understandings about the trauma and devastation that war can produce. For example, the horrors of war are captured differently in a drawing or painting than on an image from a camera.

War artists produced works that record many different aspects of war as well as the individual’s own experience. Remember that these war artists would have been in the thick of the action as well. The works that survived these wars have gone on to become very important educational tools in schools across Canada. Nowadays, most young people only care about stuff that has affected them (or is going to affect them), so it important to give them timely reminders in school that what they are able to enjoy today would not have been at all possible if it were not for those hundreds of thousands of people that gave their lives during the two World Wars.

Noticeable Canada War Artists

Canada had some noticeable war artists that created work that will live on for many more years to come. Below we are going to take a look at some of the most well-known from World War 1 and World War 2.

Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959)

Munnings want to join the army, but he was deemed unfit to fight. As a result, he was tasked with processing thousands and thousands of Canadian horses as they made their way to France. However, during the latter part of the war, he became a war artist for the Canadian

Cavalry Brigade. He painted many scenes during the war, with one his most famous paintings being of General Jack Seely upon his horse. Munnings painted this piece of work just a few thousand yards from the enemy front lines. When Seely’s men were forced to withdraw, Munnings found out what it was like to participate in war. As well as paintings, he also created the well-known oil paintings and watercolors such as Lumber Mill in the Forest of Dreux, and Draft Horses. His paintings remind us that it was not only humans that lost their lives during war, but brave horses too.


Alexander Young Jackson (1882-1974)

Before World War 1 broke out, Jackson was already a well-known and highly respected artist. In 1915, he put down his paintbrush and decided to enroll in the Canadian Army. However, in 1916 he was wounded during the Battle of Sanctuary Wood and spent quite a considerable amount of time in hospital. When he recovered, instead of becoming a soldier again, he became a war artist. Jackson would go on to produce important paintings of events that happened during the war. One stunning painting that he is known for is Gas Attack, Lievin, which he painted in 1918. You can see this piece of art at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

Frederick Varley (1881-1969)

Varley was actually born in England, but he moved to Canada back in 1912. In 1918, he served in World War I alongside other well-known artists such as Maurice Cullen, J. W. Beatty, and C. W. Simpson. Eventually, he was commissioned to put down his weapon, pick up a paintbrush, and become a war artist instead. As a war artist he accompanied Canadian soldiers during the Hundred Days offensive from Amiens in France to Mons in Belgium. He created paintings of his experience on the frontline and what he saw lived with him for the rest of his life. One of his most famous war paintings is “Some Day the People Will Return”. This painting depicts a cemetery that has been destroyed by war, suggesting that not even those who are dead are able to escape the devastations of war.

Molly Lamb (1920-2014)

In 1942, Lamb enrolled in Canadian Women’s Army Corps and spent four years with them. She traveled across all of Canada and later went to England, where she met Bruno Bobak, an artist who she would later go on to matter. During her army career she wrote a diary of war life that spans nearly three years. The diary was originally meant to be just a personal record, but Alexander Young Jackson believed that it showed her potential as a female war artist. This diary is now seen as a great insight to what women experienced during World War II. Three years after she enrolled in the C.W.A.C., she became the first official female war artist.

Robert Stewart Hyndman (1915-2009)

He was born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1915, but moved to England in 1937 so that he could study at the prestigious Central School for Arts and crafts. When war was on the cards, he returned to his homeland and signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. In 1943, he returned to England was positioned at Biggin Hill - his job was to fly Spitfires over the English Channel and drop bombs on the enemies. when he was not flying, he would spend his time drawing his experiences and his drawing soon caught the eye of government officials. He was appointed as an official war artist in 1944 and he created 68 paintings, with many of these being of Canadian senior commanders and fighter aces. Some of his best pieces of work can be found at the Canadian War Museum.

N.B. This is just a very small selection of war artists that risked their lives to help capture what war is really like. They all deserve a mention, but we do not have the means to do so. If you would like to find out more about other Canadian war artists, you can find a lot of fascinating information on Google.