First Canadian War Art Program Established in 1943

Alfred Bastien. Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele|Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.

Alfred Bastien. Canadian Gunners in the Mud, Passchendaele|Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.

It was in 1943 during the second world war that Canadian war art began to appear. In fact, Canada was the first country to establish a war art program. A man by the name of H.O.McCurry assisted in the establishment of the Program, hiring 30 different Canadian artists serving in the armed forces.  

Despite their restrictive instructions, the new subject matter, and the dangerous surroundings, the war artists produced a remarkable legacy of the conflict. Their paintings range through a variety of styles and plumb the depths of human emotions shared by the 1.1 million who served and who witnessed the deaths of more than 42,000 of their comrades.
— War

After May in 1945, the artists returned to Canada in order to complete collections of artworks based on their prior work.  The military provided studio space for the artists so they were able to depict the reality of conditions during this difficult time.  Various Canadian military artists were commissioned to create works of military activities in Europe, North Africa, on the Pacific and Atlantic, and on the Canadian home front.

War artists who served in the First and Second World War included prominent Canadians like Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson and Frederick Varley, Alex Colville, Lawren P. Harris, Pegi Nicol MacLeod, and Jack Nicols.

Today, there are three War Art Collections:

The Canadian War Memorials of the First World War (1914-18); the Canadian War Records of the Second World War (1939-45); and the post-war Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Artist Program (1968-95).