Artists and soldiers drew and painted as members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.
They created art to show current and future generations of Canadians the landscapes, ruins, soldiers and tools of war.
Artists made drawings and sketches of the battlefield, factories and shipyards, as well as training grounds on the home front. Later, in studios in both Canada and England, they created larger works of official art supported by Lord Beaverbrook’s Canadian War Memorials Fund.
Witness – Fields of Battle Through Canadian Eyes is an exhibition that presents a selection of the artwork created through the experience of war — from working sketches to prints and officially commissioned canvases.
The exhibition features more than 100 works from the collections of the Canadian War Museum by 61 artists including Canadian soldiers and celebrated Canadian artists such as A. Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, Arthur Lismer and Frank Johnston, who later became members of the Group of Seven.
As Canada’s national museum of military history, the Canadian War Museum has an important role to play in marking the centenary of the First World War. The Museum’s exceptional collection of war art offers Canadians a unique means of imagining and reimagining this conflict, and remembering the individuals who fought. Witness encourages Canadians to reflect on the personal and national reach of the First World War.
First Across Canada, Soon in France
The travelling exhibition Witness was created in 2014 by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
For the Museum, this exhibition marked the start of activities commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
Over the past two years Witness has travelled all across Canada and has been seen by thousands of people.
The War Museum is proud to announce that Witness will be crossing the Atlantic. The exhibition will be presented at the Musée des beaux-arts in Arras, France, from March 18 to June 11, 2017, to mark the 100th anniversary of the battles of Vimy and Arras.
Witness will then return home and resume its Canadian tour, with stops in Sarnia and Markham, Ontario, and in Calgary, Alberta.
4Ruins of War
War artists, officially commissioned professionals and soldiers alike, depicted war’s impact on homes, villages, towns and churches. Some also painted the abandoned French châteaux in which they were billeted.
Artists seemed to see a tragic beauty in the devastation they encountered. For many, ruined buildings symbolized war’s ravages on human beings and represented the dead they rarely painted.
One hundred years later, the reluctance of artists to depict human carnage may seem overly cautious, but most had no desire to shock. Their respect for family, friends and dead comrades conditioned their work. Depicting destroyed buildings was a gentler means of conveying to private and public audiences the enormous human cost of war.
- Ablain-Saint-Nazaire1918, William Beatty, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum 19710261-0100
- Arras Cathedral(date unknown), Henry Crumplin, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum 19840499-012
- Houses of Ypres1917, A. Y. Jackson, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum 19710261-0189