The brutal horrors that Group of Seven painter A. Y. Jackson and German artist Otto Dix witnessed on the front lines of the First World War as soldiers moved each to create landscape art that reflects their experiences of the conflict.
Transformations – A. Y. Jackson and Otto Dix shows how their wartime experiences resonate in their later landscapes. Many transform elements of the conflict into personal commentary on Canadian and German national identity in the inter-war years.
Today, Jackson’s landscapes continue to contribute to a distinctly Canadian visual identity that fosters patriotism and connection to Canada. Conversely, Dix’s art has only recently been seen as reflective of Germany’s troubled experiences of war, defeat and dictatorship.
Arranged chronologically into five sections, from their early years to their deaths, this groundbreaking exhibition draws upon rich historical and art resources, including over 70 paintings, drawings and prints from public and private collections in Canada, the United States and Germany.
An exhibition produced by the Canadian War Museum, with the generous support of the National Gallery of Canada.
Complete your visit by picking up the Transformations souvenir catalogue, on sale online and at the Museum Boutique.
The Artists as Soldiers
A. Y. Jackson
When the First World War began in 1914, 32-year-old Canadian painter A. Y. Jackson was already an established artist. He volunteered as a soldier in 1915, and was sent overseas as a soldier in the 60th Battalion, but did not create any war art during the early part of the conflict.
Wounded in the shoulder and hip in June 1916 at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in Belgium, he convalesced in England. In 1917, Jackson became one of Canada’s earliest official war artists. His first subject was the area around Vimy Ridge, six months after the battle’s successful conclusion. He also painted and sketched close to Passchendaele while the battle raged. He was discharged from the Canadian Army in 1919.
Jackson did not create finished art in the field, but instead drew and painted preliminary sketches on paper and wood. His finished canvases were studio works completed later. In both his sketches and his paintings, ruins, craters and dead trees symbolize the human devastation he witnessed.
During the Second World War, Jackson was an enthusiastic supporter of Canada’s official war art program, and even wrote a pocket-sized learn-to-paint booklet for soldiers “eager for off-duty relaxations.” He served as an official war artist once again, but this time remained on Canadian soil.
German artist Otto Dix trained as a painter-decorator before the First World War, and remained active as an artist throughout the conflict.
He enlisted in 1914, and was assigned to a field artillery regiment. He subsequently served as a non-commissioned officer in a machine gun unit on the Western Front in 1915, earning an Iron Cross (Second Class). In 1916, he participated in the Battle of the Somme in France, before being transferred to the Eastern Front. He was wounded in 1918 after being sent back to the Western Front. Towards the end of the war, he trained as a pilot before being discharged.
Dix, who was fascinated by violent subjects, produced hundreds of war drawings and paintings between 1914 and 1918. His landscape works, heavily influenced by Futurist and Apocalyptic art as well as Nietzschean philosophy, expressed the destruction of war as a regenerative force. Trenches were a favourite subject; evoking female genitalia as well as graves, they served as potent symbols of rebirth.
Following Germany’s defeat, Dix’s art focused on the war’s tragic human consequences. Labeled a “degenerate artist” by the Nazi regime in 1933, he went into “inner exile” in southwest Germany, where he painted landscapes. Inducted into the national militia in 1945, he was soon captured and was held in a French prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the conflict.