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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.

“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.