Monday, April 09, 2007

War art

There have been television programs filled with information about the Battle of Vimy Ridge all weekend, competing with Easter, as the 90th anniversary of the battle is April 9th, Easter Monday. The battlefield and monument at Vimy Ridge National Historic Site commemorate Canada's significant accomplishment, contribution and sacrifice in the First World War, and particularly the valour of all Canadians who fought in the conflict. The monument is dedicated to the 60,000 Canadians who died in the war and records the names of those who died in France and have no known grave. By the time the war ended 66,573 Canadians had been killed and 138,166 wounded. This was a very heavy toll in relation to the country’s relatively small population.

The old footage of WWII scenes reminds me of my grandfather William Atwill Bastow. He was a veteran of the first world war and came back with his life but with severe emotional impact from the experience and would never talk about the war to anyone that I knew of. He and I had a very special bond and I seemed perpetually in his company as a small child, until his death in the early 60s.

War art consists of primarily paintings and drawing by "war artists", including some photography when it moves beyond documentary purpose. A great deal of war art has been produced throughout history in an effort to record great battles and military events. This was done by persons of some talent, usually officers, who witnessed the events, or by professional artists working in their studios.

In 1917, Sir Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, was appointed to head the Canadian War Records and commissioned British and Canadian artists to paint Canadians at war. Maurice Cullen, David Milne, A.Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, Arthur Lismer and Franz Johnson were amongst the artists selected (the last four being part of the Group of Seven, which formed in 1920 and revolutionized Canadian art).

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