Watercolour on paper 57.2 x 38.8 cm
Painted in 1945
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
Canadian War Museum 19710261-2116
What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?
Painted in Cleve during the final year of WWII, Colville’s “Shattered Landscape” shows the utter devastation left in the wake of modern conflict where both man and earth are left scorched and broken. With the building, destroyed beyond recognition, and the tall trees charred black, branches snapped by bombs and shells, and the Canadian soldiers marching in file between them, we get a sense of the total enormity of the conflict facing the young men and boys who fought in an unfamiliar land against unfamiliar enemies.
Who created this piece of art?
The creator of the painting “Shattered Landscape” is the Canadian artist Alex Colville. He was born on August 24th 1920 in Toronto. In 1929 his family moved to Nova Scotia and he has spent most of his life living in the Maritimes. After graduating from Mount Allison University with a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts in 1942, he got married and then joined the Canadian Army as an official war artist. Alex Colville then served in the Mediterranean, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. He was one of three artists sent to observe and record the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. After the war he returned to Mount Allison where he taught art and art history, before retiring in 1963 to focus on his painting and printmaking.
Celebrated for his magic-realistic style, Alex Colville’s works have been exhibited extensively across North America, Europe, and Asia. He has received many honours; he was chosen to design a set of coins for Canada’s Centennial in 1967, and that year he was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1982 he was raised to Companion, the highest level of the Order. He has been awarded eight honourary degrees and from 1981 to 1991 served as Chancellor of Acadia University.
Since 1973 Alex Colville has lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia with his wife and muse, Rhoda, who recently passed away. He has four children and eight grandchildren.
Where was this piece of art created?
Colvilles’s “Shattered Landscape” was created in Cleve (Kleve), Germany on February 19, 1945.
For what purpose what this art created?
Alex Colville’s painting, “Shattered Landscape,” is an artistic view of some of the war’s destruction. Although many pieces of war art, such as propaganda, show pride and heroism, this painting reflects the true emotion felt by the soldiers during battle: depression. There are many aspects of this painting that create this sad feeling: a demolished house, torn and blackened trees, blackened earth, and defeated looking soldiers. Even though the soldiers appear to be a small part of this painting, Colville seems to be trying to capture the effect that this demolished scene would have on the soldiers emotionally. One of the greatest aspects that help create this depressed feeling, is the colors chosen. Many of the images we see from the war are black and white photographs, but because this first hand account was painted, more accurate colors were able to be used. The fact that multiple shades of black and grey are chosen to create the trees and the ground, even though the artist had access to different colors, really emphasizes how great the damage was in this area and the dark emotion that must have been felt by those present. This dark coloring mirrors the depressing mood one would feel in this situation and the emotion that this painting evokes for the observer. This painting greatly depicts the horrible conditions faced by individuals during World War II and gives insight on the awful images that were seen by the soldiers every day, to people who did not experience these tragedies first hand.
What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?
The artist, Alex Colville, named this piece of art “Shattered Landscape” with good reason. He gives a description of what has happened along with what is happening at the time he is painting this piece. He describes it as “a broken house surrounded by he trees which had all their branches torn off by bombs and shells. German shells kept passing over my head at ten-minute intervals, harassing a crossroads a few hundred yards behind me.” The scene depicted in this painting looks as if there is no life left, the trees are damaged and dead, there is no green grass anywhere, just mud and wreckage from houses and buildings that have been destroyed. This interpretation of the war fits in very well with the stories and memories the soldiers were speaking about in the documentary film watched in class on the 28th of February. The memories told and the pictures painted verify that the people involved in the war experienced terribly hard and trying times.
How accurate is this depiction of war?
“Shattered Landscape” can be considered an accurate depiction of war in respect to the aftermath of the conflict. While Colville’s piece demonstrates the wreckage that is the German landscape, it also demonstrates the wreckage amongst soldiers as witnessed in the posture and apparent demeanour of the soldiers portrayed in this painting. While land, houses, and trees were left scorched and blackened as a result of the Second World War, likewise was the spirit of our troops and nation.
How does your piece of art further our understanding of Canadian history?
Being painted by war-artist, Alex Colville, “Shattered Landscape” allows us an objective perspective of the Second World War; one that often times cannot be entirely reflected simply through text. Because the work of a war-artist is a first hand visual account, it also allows an honest perspective which is not manipulated and twisted to serve as propaganda for the Allied cause. Through the work of a war-artist, one is given insight into the conditions and wreckage which our soldiers were witness to and seeing, specifically through the line of soldiers in this piece, that Canadian soldiers were part of the landscape of war.