Remembrance Day: Canada's World War II War Artists: Chilliwack, Fall 2010

Recording the Limits of Normalcy: Canada's Official War Art Program

By Molly Ungar

During World War II, 32 Canadian artists working for the armed forces were faced with a difficult question -- What is the visual representation of war? Each artist answered this question through  paintings and drawings, creating an intriguing vision of their experiences and reactions.

In World War II, the Canadian government emplyoed Official War Artists. Were these artists propagandists? was their art self expression? whose vision of war were they painting? their own? someone else's? how closely did they follow the program guidelines?

The Official War Art Program produced about 5,000 paintings and drawings. They are the property of the Canadian government and are housed in the War Museum in Ottawa.

The benign neglect of the Canadian program allowed the artists to create an unusual vision of the altered state of existence in wartime. Their works were neither completely propaganda nor wholly self-expression, but fell somewhere in between. They tried, as indivduals, to make sense of what was required of them, to create honest artistic statements, and to also negotiate their way through the experience of war.


Charles Comfort: Sergeant P.J. Ford

We are brough oprressively close to the soldier's face. He is smudged,sunburned and exhausted, and set agains an empty background, underscoring his faraway, mesmerizing stare.

Miller, Brittain: Night Target

The dominant subject is the abstract visual effect created by the conflict. The artist has concentrated on the flares and searchlights bisecting the dark sky.

Taking Refuge in Aesthetics
Charles Comfort: Canadian 5.5-Inch Guns

The artist was most interested in the shadows thrown on the men and the equipment by the camouflage netting.

Paul Goranson: Marshalling of the "Hallies"

Frighteningly huge aircraft overshadow the little figures of the crews scurrying around getting the planes ready. The men serve the machines--not the other way around.

Alex Colville: LCAs Off Southern France

The tiny, solitary soldier seems to be standing on a building looking out to sea.

Recording the Limits of Normacly

Alex Colville: Tragic Landscape

We are forced to deal with the artist's interpretation of the unreality of war, as we encounter death on a country road.

Molly Lamb Bobak: Private Roy

An unsmiling, unglamourous participant in mundane activities.

Charles Goldhamer: Burnt Airman With Wig

"Second World War artists were essentially 'embedded' with Canadian forces. Limited in much the same way as journalists have been during the recent war in Iraq, the artists' field sketches record only what they saw, and what they saw was a very limited slice of a much greater subject..." from "Art and War: Australia, Britain and Canada in the Second World War," by Dr. Laura Brandon, Canadian War Museum (used with permission): Art and War

Library Resources:

Bird, William L. Design for victory : World War II posters on the American home front London ; New York : Tauris Academic Studies ; New York : Distributed in the U.S. by St. Martin's Press, c2006. Call number: D 743.25 B57 1998 (Abbotsford)

Brandon, Laura. Art or memorial? : the forgotten history of Canada's war art. Calgary : University of Calgary Press, c2006. Call number: D 810 A7 B73 2006 (Abbotsford)

Choko, Marc H. Canadian war posters : 1914-1918, 1939-1945 Laval, Quebec : Éditions du Méridien, c1994. Call number: D 522.25 C45 1994 (Chilliwack)

Dower, John W. Wearing propaganda : textiles on the home front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-1945. New Haven [Conn.] ; London : Published for the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, New York by Yale University Press, c2005. Call number: D 810 P6 W43 2005 (Abbotsford)

Holsinger, M. Paul. Visions of war : World War II in popular literature and culture. Bowling Green, Ohio : Bowling Green State University Popular Press, c1992. Call number: PN 56 W3 V57 1992 (Abbotsford)

Maclear, Kyo. Beclouded visions [electronic resource] : Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the art of witness. Albany : State University of New York Press, c1999. Call number: E-BOOK ON THE INTERNET (Website)

Maddison, Johnnene. Over here : women, work and WWII London, Ont. : McIntosh Gallery, The University of Western Ontario, 2004. Call number: NK 8898 M33 A4 2004 (Abbotsford, Chilliwack)

McCormick, Ken. Images of war : the artist's vision of World War II. New York : Orion Books, c1990. Call number: D 810 A7 I43 1990 (Abbotsford)

Meyers, Jeffrey. Alex Colville: Tradition and the Individual Talent. Antioch Review. Vol. 62, No. 2, All Essay Issue: "The Real O. J. Story" (Spring, 2004), pp. 348-354.

Nelson, Derek. The posters that won the war Osceola, WI, USA : Motorbooks International, 1991. Call number: D 743.25 N45 1991 (Abbotsford)

Oliver, Dean Frederick. Canvas of war : painting the Canadian experience, 1914 to 1945. Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, c2000. Call number: D 810 A7 O55 2000 (Abbotsford)

Rhodes, Anthony Richard Ewart. Propaganda : the art of persuasion in WW II  Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, c1994. Call number: D 810 P6 R48 26460 (Abbotsford)

Robertson, Heather. A Terrible beauty : the art of Canada at war . Toronto : J. Lorimer ; Oshawa [Ont.] : Robert McLaughlin Gallery ; Ottawa : National Museum of Man, 1977. Call number: NB 245 T47 (Abbotsford, Chilliwack)

Roeder, George H. The censored war : American visual experience during World War Two New Haven : Yale University Press, c1993. Call number: D 810 P7 U47 1993 (Abbotsford)

Stansky, Peter. London's burning : life, death and art in the Second World War Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, c1994. . Call number: N 9165 G7 S83 1994 (Abbotsford)

Tippett, Maria. Art at the service of war : Canada, art, and the Great War. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1984. Call number: N 6545 T56 1984 (Abbotsford)

Weingärtner, Jörn. The arts as a weapon of war [electronic resource] : Britain and the shaping of the national morale in the Second World War. London ; New York : Tauris Academic Studies ; New York : Distributed in the U.S. by St. Martin's Press, c2006. Call number: E-BOOK ON THE INTERNET (Website)

Canadian History Libguide (for help researching history):


Other Resources:

Canadian War Museum Art and War Exhibit:

Canadian War Museum: Canadian Wartime Propaganda:

Archives of Ontario: Canadian Posters from the First World War:

Library and Archives Canada: Canada and the First World War (includes links to war art):

Library and Archives Canada: Mary Riter Hamilton: Traces of War:


UFV History Instructor Molly Ungar researched and created these posters with the help of Gordon Jang from Instructional Media Services. The posters originally hung outside the Abbotsford library in Building G. During November 2010, they will be hanging outside the Chilliwack library in Building A.

Thanks to Dr. Laura Brandon, Canadian War Museum, for allowing us to reprint her essay for this display.

Thanks to the generous funding of the UFV Research Office for printing these panels.

Last updated Nov. 4, 2010. lm.

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