Category Archives: War Art: WWII

World War 2


D-Day – the Assault, by Orville Norman Fischer

What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

This artwork is depicting the terrifying odds that soldiers faced in war, and the courage required to fight. Fisher’s painting is looking at one of the most famous offensives in World War 2, namely, the D-Day landings. The painting itself shows a group of soldiers advancing through the water on to the beach as artillery shells explode around them. Between the tank traps, the explosions, the smoke clouds, and the pounding waves, the soldiers themselves look very small. This serves to emphasize the terrible odds the soldiers were up against. At the same time, this also goes to show the tremendous courage of the Canadian soldiers who fought through this terrifying experience. It is difficult to imagine what D-Day must have been like to someone on the ground, but this painting helps us to realize what this experience must have been like. It is because of the terrifying odds that this artwork almost takes a heroic tone. Here are these few soldiers, foundering through the sea in the face of overwhelming opposition, and yet they keep fighting on to victory. However, it never loses that sense of how brutal the invasion was, with the massive explosions in the background and the broken bodies floating out to sea.

Who created this piece of art?

Orville Fisher was an incredible artist during the years of the Second World War. He was born in Vancouver in 1911 and began his career as a war artist in 1942, depicting battles and lives of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Fisher was an artist who was not afraid of taking risks for his art. He is, to this day, known as one of the biggest providers of information on the Second World War and just what exactly Canada’s role in it was. Fisher was the only known artist to actually be on the beach in Normandy that awful and horrific day, which is depicted in this painting. To ensure accuracy, Fisher also chose not to rely on memory at a later date; and so he strapped waterproof sketching materials to his wrists and took the time in the midst of all of the commotion and horror to sketch some quick and rough drawings of the blood bath going on all around him. “The coast was a neutral landscape – greys and khaki and dark browns when the khaki uniforms got wet. The only bright colors on the beach were the flags showing where each unit was to land….The water was literally red with blood.” He was then able to paint larger images of the historic day at a later time. Fisher’s style was a lot of watercolours, he also used a lot of neutral shades in his work. Most of his work portraying soldiers of the time depicts very barren and sad looking landscapes, that being said, neutral shades were a very important part of his style in terms of driving home the message during the Second World War.


Where was this piece of art created?

Upon being deployed as a war artist, Orville Fisher’s painting of D-Day- The Assault was rooted from a quick rough on-the-spot sketch he drew in the moment when the troops first landed in Normandy in 1944. He later painted his drawings into full size watercolor paintings both from the sketches he made and from his first hand memories of the attack. That makes these paintings as real as possible, bringing the terror to life. This painting now lies in the Canadian War Museum, in Ottawa, Canada.

For what purpose was this art created?

The artwork of Orville Fisher was created to allow the viewer to see what the Canadian soldiers had to endure while storming the German’s shore. The artist allows the viewer to feel the sense of desperation the Canadian soldiers had while trying to storm the shore to gain a foothold in combating the German enemy. The painting creates a sense of atmosphere where the viewer can feel the sense of  danger and desperation. Not only can the painting explain the mood of the war to the viewer but they can see what was expected out of Canadian soldiers during World War Two.

What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

This painting was based off a real, on the spot, in the action sketch made by the artist Orville Fisher. He was deployed with the Canadian troops to sketch images of them storming Normandy on D-Day. This painting depicts the most real emotions and captivates each viewer, knowing that this is what the artist actually witnessed during the assault. This memory was still fresh in his mind when he recreated the sketches into the watercolor that it is today, of the Canadian soldiers who were trying to get ashore, passed the obstacles, bodies, and though the non-stop gun and shell fire aimed to keep them out.

How accurate is this depiction of war?

Orville Norman Fischer’s D-Day: The Assault is a fairly accurate depiction of what Canadians faced on Juno Beach. One of the things that was quite accurate for Canadian troops was the lack of dead bodies. In the bottom section of the painting there are two men with their heads in the water, supposedly dead, but they are the only visible dead. For some landing at one of the five D-Day beaches, they lost many, but the Canadian group at Juno beach was able to gain several miles in the first day.  Although the Canadian units were able to gain some miles with relatively few issues, it is still accurate to have some explosions in the background, as they were still under fire. The landing craft pictured also look like those that were used for the amphibian landing for most of D-Day. The fact that the sky likes semi-clear, but also clouded is fairly accurate. Many believed that at the beginning the weather would be poor, but it managed to hold off for a bit, so the mixture of blue sky and cloudy is pretty accurate. The ‘X’ shaped anti-tank barriers that soldiers are seen hiding behind are also quite similar to those that were on the beaches at D-Day.

How does your piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?

D-Day the Assault helps us understand the awful odds that Canadian soldiers were up against. This can be seen through the bodies in the water, and the amount of wreckage on the beach and in the water. This also helps us understand some more recent events in Canadian history. It can teach us why Canadian has been reluctant to join other countries in war. As seen at Canada’s entrance into WWII, Canada used to be very keen on supporting another country, especially Britain, but now is more reluctant as harsh Canadian military campaigns have become widely known as dark moments for many soldiers. We also think this brings to mind a bigger sense of patriotism, and that many more men were willing to lay their life on the line for others. We think it shows a vast difference to today, when it is most common to hear people say they are entering into a military career for reasons like free school and early retirement. This portrays the extreme sense of patriotism that the men who fought in this battle had. It also makes us think about how emotionally traumatized these men would have been, and that there was no idea of post-traumatic stress disorder at this point. It helps us understand why so many veterans stayed silent for so many years after the war.

World War II

"Night Target, Germany" Miller Brittain

Painting Source:

1) What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

This piece depicts the scene of an aviation battle from the perspective of a British pilot. The fighting in the air is reminiscent of a firework show, but of course the reality of the situation is much darker. During WWII Britain, and later the United States, began a bombing campaign against Germany in retaliation for the bombings of London and its surrounding areas. The goal of the raids was to effectively de-house one third of the German population and break their morale. But much like German air raids over Britain, this allied bombing offense only rallied the Germans and made them fight back harder. They used a complex spotlight system, AA guns, and faster fighter planes to take out the slower bombers. In attempting to achieve this goal the allies bombed many German towns and killed about five hundred thousand German civilians. 3500 Canadian soldiers also died in the air war. This raised profound ethical questions. Many criticized it claiming it did not slow German industry at all. Many of the pilots, like the artist of “Night target, Germany” Miller Brittain, did not even know what they were bombing until after the fact. Keeping this in mind we can kind of see this painting as a metaphor. The romanticized war in the air is all colours and flashing lights for the greater good. Meanwhile, on the ground out of view we see what could be a civilian center engulfed in smoke.[1]

2) Who created this piece of art?

The artist who created “Night Target, Germany” was Miller Brittain. Brittain was born in Saint John, New Brunswick on November 12th, 1912. He began studying art at age 11 in Saint John with E.R. Holt and then he moved onto the big city of New York where he studied under Henry Wickey. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force where he flew thirty-seven missions as an air bomber before he accepted the position as the official war artist during the Second World War. Before he served in the war, his main focuses on paintings were scenes of everyday life and realistic city settings, but after the war he took a turn and focused on surreal aspects. He painted abstract figures, nudes and flowers, to name a few. Brittain was also a founding member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, which was created in 1941, during World War II. In 1951, Brittain married Connie Starr, but she passed away 7 years later due to cancer. Brittain then suffered from alcoholism and died 10 years later in 1968 at the age of 54. His collections are held in a number of galleries across Canada, such as the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Canadian War Museum and the National Gallery of Canada.

3) Where was this piece of art created?

Miller Brittain conceived this painting while serving as a bomb aimer in World War II. He had put his art career on hold in 1942 to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force, eventually seeing active duty in the final years of the war in Europe. From 1944 to 1945, Brittain participated in the bombing raids over the Ruhr industrial region of Germany. He was profoundly affected by these experiences and used his artwork to express his emotions. Night Target, Germany is thus a first-person account of warfare in the night sky. The painting is from the perspective of a bomb aimer in the heat of battle. Smart holds that Brittain’s portrait “puts the viewer in his own place, witnessing a bombing mission from the aimer’s seat.” Given the artists’ personal involvement in aerial warfare during the Second World War, it clear where his inspiration for Night Target, Germany originated. It was completed after the war in 1946, when Brittain was working as an official war artist for the Canadian War Records.

4) For what purpose was this art created?

Bomb aimer Brittain wrote to his parents in 1944: “The night attacks although they are deadly are very beautiful from our point of view. The target is like an enormous lighted Christmas tree twenty miles away but straight beneath one looks like pictures I have seen of the mouth of hell.” In a 1946 letter to his parents he assessed this painting critically: “My target picture looks like the real thing they say, but I don’t like it yet as a picture. In fact at the moment, I feel like putting my foot though it.” With this being said, it was created to depict his time and experiences during the Second World War. It was as if he wanted people to live through what he did through his art. This art was a way for him to deal with the traumatic events we witnessed, and he was able to express relieve his stress though his artwork.

5) What does this piece of art tell us about the experiences of war?

This painting in its mass of bright criss-crossing lights and the many indistinct planes that look like black shadows in the sky suggests that the war experience was chaotic and dangerous; however, the mix of colours used also implies an element of beauty.  This notion is reinforced with the artist’s comment, “the night attacks although they are deadly are very beautiful from our point of view.  Both the painting and the artist’s comment expresses an element of disconnect between soldiers and what they were required to do in the line of duty.  This disconnect is also evident in the following description of conditions in the trenches: “Sleep-deprived and in a chronic state of shock, most troops fought in a numb, zombie-like state.”[2]  Furthermore, this painting informs us that Canadians had an important role in overseas warfare.  This painting depicts bomber planes and Canadian pilots were recognized for their missions in bomber planes as opposed to fighter planes.[3]  Although most Canadian pilots joined British units Canada sent 43 squadrons overseas throughout the course of the war. [4]

6) How accurate is this depiction of war?

I would have to suggest that this depiction of war is very accurate because of the fact that it was painted from the memory of a Canadian soldier in the Royal Canadian Air Force who experienced on of these night battles first hand. We cannot assume that the piece of art is 100 percent accurate because of the bias spin the artist could have put onto the painting on order to increase the viewing appeal.

7) How does your piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?

This painting gives us an understanding of Canada’s contribution to air warfare during World War II.  At the outbreak of World War II, the RCAF consisted of 4,061 men.  The painting depicts bombers targeting Germany which is significant as Canadian pilots became known for their work in bomber planes.  Furthermore, air warfare is one of the ways in which Canadians gained recognition by their allies as they were viewed to have a natural talent in that area of warfare.  This aids in understanding why the British Commonwealth Air Training plan emerged which entailed Canadians training British pilots.  The BCATP is another example of Britain’s disinterest in Canada forming their own independent units, although Canada did eventually send several of its own overseas.  Canada’s air contribution was also significant at a political level as Prime Minister Mackenzie King used it to his advantage to temporarily avoid the issue of conscription.  In addition, this painting depicts a tendency by some to romanticize the idea of war.  The element of beauty in the painting is recognized by the artist himself, when he comments on the contradiction between the beauty created by the lights from the pilots’ perspectives as compared to the destruction created below.  In conclusion, the painting explains the role that air warfare played in World War II as well as Canada’s strengths in this area of warfare


Bumsted, J.M. The Peoples of Canada: A Post-Confederation History. 4th ed. ON: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Canadian War Museum . (accessed March 16, 2014

“Gallery 78: Fine Art” last modified March 19th, 2014.

Smart, Tom. Miller Brittain: When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2007.

[1] Doerr, Paul. “The Air War.” Lecture, World War Two, Acadia University, March 17th, 2014.

[2] J.M, Bumsted, The Peoples of Canada: A Post-Confederation History. 4th ed. (Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2014), 204.

[3] Ibid, 293.

[4]Ibid, 293.

World War Art-British Tank in Action and Bombed houses, Caen, Normandy



The painting British Tank in Action gives us a realistic view on the war and helps to gives us an image of something that in this day in age we have no ability to relate to on a personal basis. This painting in particular highlights the importance of tanks and new technology and the power it brought to WW1. It also symbolizes the rapid advancement that took place in the First World War. The grungy dark colours in this painting give us the image that war was not pretty and should not necessarily be glorified. The painting Bombed House, Caen, Normandy show the destruction that affected civilian life in WWII. In the bottom of the painting there are painted piles and this could be seen as ashes of the people who died in the war. This shows how in this war, the war actually left the battle field and brought it to the home front. It was a civilian war too. This bombed building also shows the emptiness that followed the war; this building represents the emptiness of not only bombed towns but of soldiers after they too had been attacked.  When we look at this piece it shows Canadians how distanced they were from the destruction of war, because the war never affected their home front n a physical manifestation.



What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

British Tank in Action: This piece of art can show us that the British were technologically advanced enough to use tanks during the First World War. The experience of soldiers would have been different than those who did not have access to such technology. This piece shows the importance of war technology to the soldiers. The support of tanks made a crucial difference to the experience of frontline soldiers and the artist’s use of a scaled up tank shows its significance. The battle looks chaotic and destructive. These tanks are shown to be clearing debris and rolling over the ruins. This tells us that the level of destruction was massive and irreversible. The painting depicts the experience of the war to be dark and grisly with all of the smoke, fire, uncertainty and damages. The painter used mainly dark colours which would signify that the experience of war was dark and gloomy, without much to have hope for.

Bombed houses: This painting shows us that the experience of war left the buildings of Normandy essentially skeletons of what they used to be. This would have lead families and entire communities homeless which would have led to extreme helplessness and hopelessness. This painting tells us that the experience of war was filled with despair. What was inside of the houses is left to ashes at the bottom of the painting. It symbolizes that nothing was left in its original condition and everything was affected. Most of the houses are completely destroyed except for the outer walls. The glass has been shattered from the windows and there would be no reasonable way to restore the houses. This shows that the experience of war left people to work from the bottom up to rebuild their lives. The sky in this painting is dark and morbid with heavy clouds of smoke.

How accurate is this depiction of war?


This painting displays a British tank on the frontlines at the Somme in 1915, while this was the first battle in which tanks were used it is not entirely accurate.

Tanks were not as significant in the early battles on the Western front as they appear to be in this painting. This becomes more inaccurate when one considers that the painting depicts 1915, since tanks did not become a staple until later in the war.

From another perspective, this piece is accurate in representing the importance of the first use of the tank. The significance of the tank is illustrated by its exaggerated size. Tanks became extremely important later in the war and in the Second World War and therefore the first allied use of a tank is extremely important. Furthermore, the painting is accurate in its representation of the frontlines. The painting illustrates the chaos of the frontlines, which was prevalent (especially in the early years of the war), as plans of attack were not shared with everyone. It is also mostly monochromatic which shows the monotony of war. The soldiers, especially those on the front lines lived extremely regulated lives without much fun or “colour”.

The question of this piece’s accuracy depends on the aspect one is examining. As a depiction of the experience of soldiers and of the importance of technology it is accurate. As a depiction of the importance of the tank in the Battle of the Somme in 1915 it is less accurate. Whether or not accurate this piece is nonetheless significant for its illustration of significant parts of the war.


This piece depicts a bombed city, namely Caen, Normandy. This painting is done in a surrealist style but it is important in understanding the reality of the war.

The building, or what is left of it, is an accurate representation of the destruction that took place throughout Europe, Asia and North America during the Second World War. This is an important piece in understanding that damage was done not only on battlefields, but also on civilian towns.

The surrealist image provided by this painting through its interesting use of colour does not discount its accuracy. While the image itself is not exact, the evidence of the war displayed in the painting is what matters. Photos from the war show this type of destruction everywhere the war touched and confirm its accuracy.

Additionally, the use of surrealist style accurately represents the emotion of the war. Such destruction is hard to comprehend and many who experienced the destruction would have felt it surreal. The emptiness of the building is also an accurate representation of the way the war left many soldiers and civilians, who lost so much in the conflict.

This piece of art depicts the first time tanks were used in battle during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.   By 1915 the main weapons of the British infantry were the bayonet and artillery units.  During the battle at Flers – Courcelette the British employed their new weapon, the armoured tank.  The villages of Flers and Courcelette were long held German strongpoints that would prove advantageous for the allied if captured. This new British weapon was mysterious to defending German soldiers as nothing like the armoured tank had even been seen in battle.  The slow moving tanks were able to advance a mile into German territory as it could roll over and crush German barbed wire that proved such an obstacle for the infantry.  Despite the initial gains the primitive tanks were unable to navigate the terrain as it became more riddled with shell holes and were prone to mechanical breakdowns. The early tank also proved to be difficult to utilise in a surprise attack as the loud engines as well as the exhaust fumes could be seen by the soldiers as it advanced over the battle field. The small gains made by the tank during the Battle of the Somme was enough for British General Douglas Haig recognized the potential advantage this new weapon could provide the allied armies and a rush was placed on the building of subsequent tanks.  The use of tanks at the Somme represents the rapid advancement in weaponry during the First World War which greatly contributed to the substantial loss of life.

What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

The piece of art depicts the evolution of war from a fight between armies to a fight between all aspects a country.  The Second World War stands apart from all others before it because civilians became as much a target as soldiers during this war.  War was moved from the trenches dug in farmer’s field to the cities, towns, and villages of Europe.  Entire villages became strategic objective points for both sides to capture regardless of the civilian population.  Entire families were driven out of their homes only to return to find their homes bombed into rubble.  The Second World War more than any other included vast amount of aerial bombings of villages to prevent enemy tanks and troops from easily passing through the terrain.  The villages and towns of continental Europe became the battle group for a war which relied heavily on artillery fire and bombing.  This painting depicts the wreckage of the city of Caen, Normandy after battle.  The only part of the city remaining are skeletal frames of building that were once homes to civilians who suddenly found themselves at the heart of a war they had to fighting place in.

Who created this piece of art?

British Tank in Action was painted by Daniel Sherrin who also painted under the pseudonym of “L.Richards”. Sherrin was born in England in 1869. He was never formally trained, but his father was an artist who specialized in still Life. Je was also a student of Benjamin Williams Leader[1]. It is believed he trained under him and morphed a lot of his work to other artists of the times. His art was primarily landscapes, marines, and watercolour paintings[2]. Several of his paintings were used in books, for engravings, and hang in prominent places like Buckingham palace[3].  He later died in 1940 and the families’ artistic talents passed down to a 3rd generation in his son Reginald Sherrin[4].

Bombed Houses, Caen, Norway, was painted by Will Ogilvie. Ogilvie was born in 1901 in South Africa, He moved to Canada in 1925[5]. He studied with Erich Mayer and Kimon Nicolaides[6]. He was a very prominent man in the Canadian art community. He was debatably one of the first official War artists who was appointed in 1943, a founding member of the Canadian group of painters, the head of the art school at the Art association of Montreal, taught at Ontario college of art and Uof T, He enlisted in the second World war as an army staff artist, and received a member of the order of the British Empire and member of the order of Canada for his great War works[7]. As an Artist in Normandy he had to work to keep his supplies dry. To do so he would cover his paper and utensils in a gas cape and extra Mae West[8]. His work was usually spontaneous, yet filled with great meaning and symbolism[9].He often used watercolours as the basis for his work and would later translate them to his oil painting[10]. A great deal of his work was painted while under fire and serving in the war[11]. He later died in 1989[12].


Art Signature Dictionary . Sherrin, Daniel . n.d. (accessed March 19, 2014).

Ask Artisits: The Artists Blue Book . Daniel Sherrin, The Elder. 2000-2014. (accessed March 16, 2014).

Banks Fine Art. Daniel Sherrin . 2014. (accessed March 16, 2014).

Canadian Musuem of History . Canadian Artist: Ogilvie, Will (1901-1989). n.d. (accessed March 16, 2014).

MacDonald, Colin S. Will Ogilvie. n.d. (accessed March 16, 2014).

Morse, Jennifer. Will Olgivie. May 14, 2009. (accessed March 19, 2014).

MURRAY, JOAN. Will Ogilvie. December 09, 2008. (accessed March 16, 2014).

Rowles Fine Art. Daniel Sherrin, 1868-1940. 2014. (accessed March 19, 2014).

[1] “Daniel Sherrin, The Elder,” Ask Art The Artists’ Bluebook, last modified, 2014, accessed March 16th, 2014,

[2] “Sherrin, Daniel,” Art Signature Dictionary, accessed March 19th, 2014,

[3] “Daniel Sherrin, 1868-1940,” Rowles Fine Art, Last Modified 2014, accessed march 19th, 2014,

[4] “Daniel Sherrin,” Banks Fine Art, last modified, 2014, accessed March 16th, 2014,

[5] “Will Ogilvie,” Roberts Gallery, accessed March 16th, 2014,

[6] “Will Ogilvie,” Historica Canada, Last Modified, December 15th, 2013, accessed March 16th, 2014,,

[7] “Canadian Artist,” Art and War, accessed March 16th, 2014,

[8] “Will Ogilvie,” Legion Magazine, Last modified, May 14th, 2009, accessed March 19th, 2013,

[9] “Will Ogilvie,” Historica Canada, Last Modified, December 15th, 2013, accessed March 16th, 2014,,

[10] “Will Ogilvie,” Legion Magazine, Last modified, May 14th, 2009, accessed March 19th, 2013,

[11] Ibid

[12] “Will Ogilvie,” Roberts Gallery, accessed March 16th, 2014,

“Light Coastal Forces Blow up an Enemy Merchantman” – Richard Eurich

1. What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

The painting “Light costal forces blow up an enemy merchantman” by Richard Eurich depicts that the costal force destroyed an enemy merchantman during World War Ⅱ. Richard Eurich uses many different colours to illustrate how terrible the explosion was. As the painting shows the extreme explosion/flames with light colours in contrast with the dark colours, it can explain that the costal force aimed and approached the small enemy merchant ship to destroy it at night because this darkness allowed the naval ship to do such an extreme attack. The flames are expanding to the left very widely in the dark sky, depicting that this crash was terrible and extremely strong. We can tell that the coastal force attacked and crushed into the enemy merchantman at quite high speed. The darkness allowed the coastal force to approach the enemy at such a high speed because it was hard for enemy to see the sky and sea clearly in the darkness.

2. Who created this piece of art?

The piece entitled ‘Light coastal forces blow up an enemy merchantman’ was painted by Richard Eurich. Richard Eurich was a British painter of German descent. He was born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1903. Eurich attended the Bradford School for Arts and Crafts in 1922 until 1924 before moving on to attend the Slade School in London until 1927. Richard Eurich was to become the first one person show at the Goupil Gallery in London, which was a branch of the French Goupil & Co. publishing firm. The winter of 1932-33 was spent painting at Lyme Regis and 1933 began the first of sixteen exhibitions at the Redfern Gallery in London.
Richard Eurich’s marriage to Mavis Pope in 1934 saw them move to Dibden Purlieu in Hampshire, at the edge of the New Forest in England. Their home ‘Appletreewick’ was to become Eurich’s retreat. Eurich’s first son was born the next year and in 1937, Eurich’s work was first exhibited at The Royal Academy. By 1940, Richard Eurich’s first commission by the War Artists Advisory Committee came for two paintings. Between the years of 1941 and 1945, he received an honorary commission as a Captain in the Royal Marines to work as an official war artist. Following the war, Eurich taught at the Camberwell Art School from 1949 to 1967 before returning to Bradford in 1951 for an exhibition at Cartwright Hall. His work was exhibited at the Imperial War Museum a year before his death in 1992.

3. Where was this piece of art created?

Though “Light costal forces blow up and enemy merchantman” was commissioned in Britain, by a British painter [Richard Eurich] in 1943, it was still given to Canada after the war was over. The painting was painted in Britain, but the artist Richard Eurich, never actually saw the event, but from photographs and first hand interviews he interpreted. (Canadian Artist Richard Eurich) According to “Peyton Skipwith [who] noted that the artist “did not witness in person the great events [of war] which he recorded so passionately and dramatically, but with his knowledge of the ‘structure’ of the sea, combined with sketches made whilst travelling along the Franco-Belgian coast, eye-witness accounts and photographs, he was able, quickly and masterfully, to interpret these scenes not only as great art, but in a manner that convinced those who had participated in their absolute veracity.”” (Exhibition Theme-Battle) Since Eurich travelled along the coastline of France and Belgium, and was the Official War Artist to the Admiralty during the war, all that could be found was that he painted the painting in 1943, and he travelled along the Franco-Belgian coastline he gathered inspiration. He made the sketches along the coastline according to Peyton Skipwith, so the painting was most likely painted in Britain, though it could have been created while he was on the road, but that is not as likely.

4. For what purpose was this art created?

“Light coastal forces blow up an enemy merchantman” by Richard Eurich is a painting portraying just that. The use of stark contrast between the darkness of the sky and the sea with the bright oranges and white of the explosion focuses the viewer on the magnitude of such an event. Despite not having seen an event like the one depicted in the painting, Eurich gives the painting profound purpose through both the painting itself and the title. Within the painting, there is no clear national identity to either ship. This suggests that both sides were capable of committing such terrible acts against the other. Within the title, Eurich states that the ship that was blown up was an “enemy merchantman”. This suggests that not only military naval ships were under threats of attack, but also civilian ships. The purpose of this piece of art is to display the horrors of war on both militia and civilians, and that these horrors were experienced by both sides.

5. What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

This painting, much like Churchman’s painting of World War One, uses bursts of colour against a dark canvas of night to portray the explosions and fire of war. This particular painting is a depiction of sea-based attack. As detection was more difficult during the night, this is when many attacks would happen, giving the offensive the advantage. Although this painting does not show individuals and ergo cannot be used to derive individual experience, more general meaning and feeling can be taken from it. The artist did this painting without much detail work, which can be interpreted as telling the audience about the experience of war; the details of life and individuals were overshadowed by explosions, and the mass onslaught of battle. The title of the painting indicates that it was not a warship that was attacked, but a merchant ship. This tells us two important things about wartime experience: that nobody was impervious to attack, and that goods brought on merchant ships were scarce (as many were targets for attack). Additionally, the war itself put a strain on goods, so any loss of merchant transport vehicles depleted an already minimal supply. These two limitations in conjuncture made for a poor quality of life for the average citizen during wartime.

6. How accurate is this depiction of war?

Richard Eurich was not actually a witness to the events of which he painted. Eurich combined knowledge of the often attacked merchantmen vessels which were big and were poorly equipped for war. Eurich combined his knowledge with previous sketches made while travelling along the Franco-Belgian coast, and eye-witness accounts and photographs in order to make this painting so accurate. Euirch shows in his painting an enemy merchantman’s ship that were often attacked by torpedos. This picture is an accurate depiction as the explosion of a big ship would definitely light up the sky as the picture shows. Also, similar to the J.A. Churchman painting, this attack was made at night as it was the best time to attack since visibility was low. Richard Eurich’s painting accurately depicts an attacked vessel and was so accurate that the British War Artists Advisory Committee gave this painting to Canada after the war.

7. How does your piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?

Though this piece was painted by someone from Britian and later given to Canada, it still shows how other countries (especially allies), viewed battles on the war front. Taking into account Eurich’s travel experience, as well as his sketches based on numerous accounts from soldiers, we can deduce that his art is not limited to the confines of British knowledge or interpretation. He was able to combine his own feelings and notions of war with the first-hand accounts that he heard from soldiers to create a piece which, while not necessarily accurate technically, effectively captured the emotions of the time. This helps us to gain a greater understanding of Canadian history because it shows how the allies saw the war effort, and how the investigative process helped shape a painting collectively.
Both of these pieces were painted at night, which we found was important because it rejects the typical notion that battles primarily took place during the day. Raids and battles carried on into the night, and in all kinds of conditions during both World War I and World War II.

“Blind Man in Belsen” by Alan Moore

"Blind Man in Belsen" by Alan Moore

“Blind Man in Belsen” by Alan Moore

“Blind Man in Belsen” by Alan Moore

What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

The “Blind Man in Belsen” by Alan Moore shows a blind man with a bandaged head and wrapped arm walking with a cane through a devastated landscape that is littered with corpses. This piece of artwork is a depiction of the horrors that Moore saw during the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp in Nazi Germany by Allied troops on April 15th, 1945. The Belsen concentration camp was one of the more infamous concentration camps in Germany during the Second World War. The Belsen camp was not meant to be a death camp, but thousands died while in the camp, which liberators discovered after the camps liberation. This piece is a representation of the haunting sights that the soldiers saw during and after the liberation of the Belsen camp, and the terrible treatment that the prisoners received while incarcerated in the Belsen camp. 

Who created this piece of art?

The artist of the painting titled “Blind Man in Belsen” was Alan Moore. Moore was born in 1914 in Australia. While he was not a person who trained to be painter his entire life he always had the natural talent and the desire to be a painter was always his desire, specifically to be a war artist. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and was initially given the task to draw diagrams of certain planes. During his time in the Air Force he was appointed as an official war artist working in New Guinea, the Middle East and Europe. He was asked to depict what was happening in certain areas where the RAAF was stationed. This art piece was created in Melbourne, Australia in 1947. The “Blind Man in Belsen” was created from his experiences and memories during the Second World War and specifically depicted harrowing scenes at Belsen concentration camp in Germany after it was freed from German control. This painting is an example of the horrors he saw of men dying or experiencing major injuries. The painting is done in a fashion that allows a person to imagine the tragedies and horrors of this place and the war in general in a dark and quiet manner. It is a great painting which captures the so-called ugly side of war that may have had the most lasting memory on the history of the war, which is the human tragedy. It can be considered a tribute to the sacrifices that the soldiers and citizens gave during the Second World War.     

Where was this piece of art created?

For the piece of art from the Second World War, we pick the Blind man in Belsen by Alan Moore. Although he painted this in 1947 after the war, he painted this from the sketches, drawings and photographs taken of an event he witnessed. The artist Alan Moore had painted the British troops liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15 April 1945. Bergen- Belsen camp was located near the two small towns of Bergen and Belsen which were about 17.7 km north of Celle, in the Lower Saxony state of Germany. This camp was prisoners of war (POW) camp before turning into a concentration camp in 1943. The reason why Moore was there was to show proof of the atrocities committed against the mainly Jewish inmates as well as POWS. Though Moore did not do any actual do any paintings until after the war, as the Australian War Memorial Art Committee had not asked for actual paintings until after the war. They then commissioned for several paintings in 1945. Moore created this painting in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria of Australia, and then the paintings were sent to the Australian War Memorial Art Committee

What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

It was following the end of the war in 1945 that the Nazi concentration camps were shut down and soldiers liberated prisoners. In the painting, a blind man is stumbling through decaying bodies, using his cane to guide himself around them. Allan Moore’s painting all too accurately depicts the wretched atmosphere of the camp, and the hellish scenes that confronted the troops that arrived at these camps. Although many people refer to all Nazi camps as “concentration camps,” there were actually a number of different kinds of camps, including concentration camps, extermination camps, labour camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and transit camps In total over 11 million people, men, women and children, died from the conditions they were subjected to or were murdered in these camps.

How does this piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?

“Blind Man In Belsen” shows the disturbing image of a man, with corpses rotting all around him, navigating his way past them as best he can with his cane. While concentration camps were meant to work and starve prisoners to death, extermination camps (also known as death camps) were built for the sole purpose of killing large groups of people quickly and efficiently. The Nazis built six extermination camps: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. (Auschwitz and Majdanek were both concentration and extermination camps.) Of the 11 million victims, 6 million of those were Jews.

Although Canada did not directly experience the Holocaust, it serves to further our understanding of what happened in these camps and the many ways we were impacted by the tragedy. Canada’s restrictive immigration policies at the time largely closed the door on Jews seeking to flee Europe. Therefore as a result of these wartime policies, nearly 2,300 men were interned as “enemy aliens” in camps across our country between 1940 and 1943. They were mostly Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany.

The Canadian experience of the Holocaust was also one of resilience and hope too. In April 1945, Canadian forces liberated the Westerbork Transit Camp in the Netherlands, including 900 Dutch Jews who were still interned there. As a nation, Canada was also profoundly shaped by approximately 40,000 Holocaust survivors, who resettled across the country after the war.


World War Two Painting: Shattered Landscape, Cleve

By: Andrew Smitten

What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

This painting shows the after math of battles and war cause to the land and people. The mass destruction that is left in its wake, also the painting allows us to look through the eyes of Canadian soldiers and see what they see on a daily bases. The events that are being depicted are the actions that Canadian soldiers took during Operation Veritable. This battle saw Canadian and other allied troops fighting Germans around the town of Kleve which is a town in the Lower Rhine region of northwestern Germany.

Who created this piece of art?

Shattered Landscape was painted by Alex Colville. Colville was a Canadian Infantry man in World War Two.  It wasn’t until 1944 when he was appointed as an official war artist. One interesting fact about him is that he is one of the only World War Two era painters to paint pictures in England, France, Holland and Germany.

Where was this piece of art created?

This painting didn’t really have a specific battle tied to it at first glance. But after some quick research it most likely was painted to depict Canadian Soldiers during or more like after the battle of Kleve. The painting was completed on February 19, 1945, this date perfectly coincides with the date that the battle took place.

For what purpose was this art created?

The purpose of this picture is to show how war causes nothing but pain and destruction. Nothing is safe from war. The picture also depicts the desperation that the Germans had near the ending of the war. At this point we were knocking on their door and they were willing to do anything to stop the allies. This can be seen clearly by the absolute destruction of this little town that probable had no part in the war.

What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

This piece of art tells us a lot about World War Two. Mainly that it caused mass destruction and affected and changed many peoples lives, especially for civilians that just lost their homes and everything they had. The experience that is felt from this painting is that war is full of destruction and devastation and nothing is safe. All these things become normal and common when talking about war.

How accurate is this depiction of war?

It is accurate at depicting World War Two because it shows how war never takes sides and that the aftermath of all these battles is nothing but destruction and crushed dreams. It also allows us to see just how normal lives of people that weren’t even about of the war can be changed for ever. Another thing is it helps depict the last few days on World War Two and how the ferocity of the battles didn’t lessened but can be argued that they got worse.

How does your piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?  This piece of art furthers our understanding of Canadian history. One of these ways is that it helps us understand the ferocity of World War Two and what was at stack. Other way has to do with the fact that this painting depicts probable one of the last battles of World War Two to be fought on the western front. It shows that Canadian soldiers were there and participated to the very end. Another thing is shows is Canada’s role in the final blow to Nazi Germany that helped end a terrible war and put a stop to the mass murder of millions of indecent people. The painting illustrates not just this one decisive battle but a long line of proud Canadians who served during World War Two and also the lasting affects it had on Canada and it’s the people. Affects that were felt for many years to come.



“Canadian Destroyers” by Edwin Holgate

 Canadian Destroyers by Edwin Healey Holgate

1. What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

The canvas painting depicts two Canadian destroyers anchored in the Halifax harbour in the winter of 1941. The ship closest to the dock, marked with the letters H83, is the HCMS St. Laurent, a battleship built in by the British Royal Navy in the early 1930s and transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1937. The snowy scene also contains several men, most likely sailors working on resupplying the ship, and parts of a crane, possibly at Jetty Three in the Halifax Dockyards, which was a prominent motive featured in several works of art.

The painting provides insight into Canadian naval warfare during World War II in several ways. On a basic level, it portrays a scene any passer-by might experience on a visit to Halifax harbour during the war. Considering that Canada participated in a war that was not fought on Canadian soil, the harbours were one of the only places Canadians were actually exposed to physical evidence of the state of war, which makes them an important symbol for the home front experience.


The HCMS St. Laurent on open sea in 1943.
Source: Government of Nova Scotia Virtual Archives – H.F. Pullen NSARM accession no. 1984-573 Box 1 F/18

The depiction of the HCMS St. Laurent also holds noteworthy significance, as it is a product of the Commonwealth’s naval military strategy. Built in England as part of general armament efforts in the 1930s, the St. Laurent was sold to Canada in 1937, when a European war became increasingly likely and the Canadian government sought to upgrade their traditionally insubstantial naval force, a program that kicked into full gear on the onset of the war. The St. Laurent rescued more than 850 people after an attack on the transatlantic liner Arandora Star by German submarines in 1940, and took part in the Battle of the Atlantic military campaign, where it participated in the sinking of two German submarines in 1942. As such the St. Laurent can be considered a symbol of naval military success in the Canadian war efforts.

 Battle of the Atlantic 1941 Map

 Map showing activities of the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941. The St. Laurent was part of a convoy regularly protecting transports between Newfoundland and Northern Ireland (sometimes Iceland)

2. Who created this piece of art?

Edwin Holgate was born in 1892 in Allandale, Ontario. He is most famously known for being not only a draftsman, but also a portraitist, war artist, educator and in addition to being known as one of the key players in the development of modern art in Canada. Holgate enlisted in the Canadian army during the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 while travelling through Europe. He served in the Fourth Canadian Division until 1919. During the early 1930’s, Edwin Holgate was invited to join the Group of Seven, a group consisting of Canadian landscape painters formed between 1920 and 1933. As a part of the group, he played a pivotal role in initiating the first Canadian national art movement. Holgate would become a prominent figure in the Montreal art’s community, where he not only bridged the cultural gap between the English and French art communities, but also became an educator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. During the Second World War, Edwin Holgate moved to England where he was appointed as an official war artist. When the war finally came to an end in 1945, Holgate, surrounded by an ever-developing art scene in Montreal would find it difficult to adapt. Edwin Holgate would die in Montreal in 1977 due to health reasons.

3. Where was this piece of art created?

There is no information concerning the creation of the painting, apart from 1941 being the year of manufacture. It was most likely painted between March and July 1941, when the St. Laurent was anchored in its hailing port of Halifax for refitting. The depiction of snow, while not being entirely unlikely considering Nova Scotian weather patterns (sigh), might originate from the artistic vision of Holgate.

The setting of the Halifax harbour, marked by what we can assume is a pretty recognizable landmark with the crane of Jetty Three, suggests that Holgate wanted to highlight the local war effort in the Maritimes. This notion is enforced by the fact that the artist chose Halifax as the setting in the first place, rather than the more significant Canadian naval base in Montreal.

4. For what purpose was this art created?

Edward Holgate’s painting of the “Canadian Destroyers” was initially created out of his own desire, as he was determined to record Canada’s war. It is important to note this painting was not officially commissioned by the Canadian government; it does however depict Holgate’s support for the war effort, considering that he was in fact a war veteran himself, serving in the army during the First World War. This piece was an unofficial painting and was not used for propaganda, however, the art does enable its viewers a certain motive to encourage the war efforts at that time, through possible enlistment or war bonds. The painting itself does depict a sense of true patriotism in Canada. For instance, our winter, known to be long and severe, is also beautiful with the snow covering the grounds, creating a pristine landscape that Canadians are so proud of. It also represents Canada’s mobilization on the home front, particularly its naval fleet, which served during the Battle of the Atlantic. The HMCS St.Laurent, shown in the painting, proved Canada’s naval importance in the war as it rescued more than 850 people after a German submarine sank the British Arandora Star line on July 2nd, 1940.

5. What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

As we look at the piece of art Edwin Holgate painted in 1941 of the Canadian destroyer, particularly the HMCS St. Laurent docked in the harbour in Halifax, we can get a better understand of just what was occurring during the war. The Halifax dockyard, where the destroyer was located, played a major role during the Second World War, especially on the naval war front as it was considered to be a crucial role for Britain during the Battle of the Atlantic where it was used to harbour Canadian and allied ships but also as a port to send supplies to troops fighting abroad. The weather, as portrayed in the painting, also plays an important role describing the war experience. Canadians, accustomed to the long and severe winters, were preparing themselves for the harshness and unpredictability of what they assumed would be a long war. Just like winter weather, naval ships were never certain what the next day would behold, whether it was calm or the need to prepare for the worst. Finally, the destroyers themselves can symbolize Canada’s strength during the Second World War as it evolved and expanded from a small naval fleet during the 1920’s to one with such abundance it played an essential role during the Battle of the Atlantic.

6. How accurate is this depiction of war?

There is little reason to question the authenticity of this representation of the Canadian war efforts, since the painting portrays a rather uneventful scene of docking ships. The sight of destroyers anchored in Halifax was, given the small size of the Canadian navy at the time of painting, probably not a daily occurrence, but surely nothing that drew too much attention to itself in 1941. This begs the question why Holgate should choose such a motive for his painting, rather than depicting a more emotionally impactful event. It is easy to envision a scenario in a similar setting, maybe a destroyer full of soldiers leaving the harbour, cheered on by dozens of enthusiastic supporters of the war.

The painting suggests that the artist was interested in accurately portraying an everyday occurrence, an aspect of the war as it would be experienced by the inhabitants of Halifax. This observation is supported by the information we have on the life of Edwin Holgate, who initially sought to record the Canadian war effort by himself, until he got commissioned as a war artist for the RCAF in 1943. It is easy to imagine why he was chosen for this position given the potential for promotional content this painting suggests, and it would be interesting to compare his earlier works to the paintings commissioned by the RCAF for a possible change in focus.

Group Question: How does your piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?

The painting represents the Canadian war efforts during World War II in several ways. The portrayal of destroyers as part of the Canadian navy is a symbol of the overall expansion of the Canadian naval force since the Great War. The HCMS St. Laurent, built in England and later transferred to Canada, exemplifies that the ties between Britain and Canada remain significant in this era, especially in regards to military spending and foreign affairs. The St. Laurent, which had participated in several successful military engagements at the time of painting, can also be considered a symbol of Canadian national pride and military success.

It also adequately represents the Canadian war experience on the home front to some extent. Participating in a war that was fought – at the time of painting – exclusively in Europe and in the Atlantic, did not affect Canada in the same way it affected the European mainland and Britain. The military vessels anchored in harbours were one of the few ways the Canadian public actually experienced physical evidence of the war, and harbours, as places were most Canadian soldiers were sent off to fight in the war, definitely hold a symbolic value in this regard. This is not to say that the roughly 1,1 million soldiers who enlisted were not dearly missed in Canadian society, but battleships in harbours can be considered one of the few public displays of imposing military equipment on Canadian soil.

Lastly, the painting, being set in Halifax rather than a more significant naval port, arguably emphasizes the regional war effort of Nova Scotia. With the affirmation of distinct regional identities being a prominent theme throughout Canadian history and culture, it is interesting to note that these notions might influence the creation of art, especially considering that war efforts generally tend to be interpreted as a national struggle with a strong unifying influence.

Written by:

Paulo Holldack (Questions  1, 3, 6) and Julian Verboomen (Questions 2, 4, 5)