Canvas of War [ Home ]Masterpieces from the Canadian War Museum

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Inspired by the success of the First World War art program, Vincent Massey, Canada’s High Commissioner in Great Britain, initiated Canada’s Second World War art program. With the support of the National Gallery of Canada, Canada’s art community and the Canadian Army, the Canadian War Records project became an official government program in January 1943.

Canada’s Second World War Artists

The Canadian government hired 31 official war artists to paint the activities of the armed forces at home and overseas. They served in specific army units, air force squadrons or ships, were issued instructions regarding the choice of subject matter, and were given the necessary materials. Additional commissions went to a number of female artists who ensured that the role of women in wartime was adequately depicted. Nearly 5,000 works of art were completed before the program ended in 1946.

Photo #15

Canada’s official Second World War army artists with A. Y. Jackson, a First World War artist, and H. O. McCurry, Director of the National Gallery, in 1946.
National Archives of Canada PA 18609


The Instructions for War Artists issued to Flying Officer C. F. Schaefer, an official war artist serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force, on September 25, 1943. These instructions determined the subject matter to be depicted, the number of works to be completed and the general purpose of the art.

What did the war do for Canadian art?

The Second World War put art back into Canadian society. The Depression had made art an unaffordable luxury for most Canadians and forced many artists to turn to other careers. During the war, artists were seen as having an important role in the war effort. Through their works, they gave the country an image of war. Exhibits and reproductions increased the visibility of the war art and supported a growing national interest in fostering Canadian art as a whole.

Photo #16

Charles Comfort, an official war artist serving in the army, paints with watercolours surrounded by the rubble of a building outside Ortona, Italy.
National Archives of Canada 30869

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