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New art exhibitions explore the First World War's historical significance

  • Apr 09, 2014
  • 647 words
  • 3 minutes
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Not all is fair in love and war, but the love of war art is clear in two new exhibits opening today at the Canadian War Museum.

As part of the Ottawa museum’s commemoration of the First World War’s 100-year anniversary, the new exhibitions feature art work that sheds light not only on what happened during the war, but also the war’s consequences.

Laura Brandon, the museum’s director of research, exhibition and interpretation, says that the exhibitions allow the museum to share the human experiences during the war.

“A hundred years later, we know that the First World War transformed the country we live in,” she says. “With these two exhibitions, we’re able to witness that transformation as it happens.”

The Transformations exhibition features over 70 paintings, drawings and prints influenced by the First World War and created by two war artists, Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson and German painter and printmaker Otto Dix. James Whitham, the Canadian War Museum’s director general, says this exhibition “traces the First World War influence on the landscape art of the two now-celebrated artists who, in their early years, fought on opposing sides.”

When the First World War ended, Jackson returned to a victorious nation and helped found the first major Canadian national art movement. “Even as Jackson’s art is grounded in patriotism and celebrated the raw beauty and growing confidence of our young country, his war experiences were never far away,” Whitham says.

Meanwhile, in post-war Germany, Whitham says Dix lost his job and hundreds of his works of art were destroyed. Though his paintings and drawings during the war concentrated on the war’s destruction, Dix’s post-war art focused on the tragic human consequences of war.

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(Photo: Guillaume Nolet)
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(Photo: Guillaume Nolet)

Witness, the other exhibition, looks at how Canadians used art to communicate their experiences during the First World War both at home and overseas. While there is familiar artwork from commissioned war artists, like Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley, there is also art from regular soldiers, with some pieces never shown in public before.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is Women Making Shells by Mabel May, one of four female war artists commissioned during the First World War. While male war artists were on the front lines, capturing what the war was like in the trenches, May’s work reveals what life was like for women on the home front working in factories.

Along with the exhibitions, there are interactive activities for children, or the kid in all of us, such as an iSketch that allows visitors to draw their own war art sketches on an iPad. There are also scavenger hunts to find animals or pieces of equipment hidden in the art, as well as opportunities to create a comic book of the First World War or design a new Canadian flag.

The two exhibitions will be at the Canadian War Museum until Sept. 21, 2014.

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Women Making Shells, 1919, by Mabel May, one of four women artists commissioned by the Canadian War Memorial Fund to depict female munitions workers. (Photo: © Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, 19710261-0389)
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A.Y. Jackson’s A Copse, Evening, 1918, shows dramatic war landscape during the war. Jackson’s broken and twisted trees are a symbol of the human cost of conflict, and a reminder of the brutality of the First World War. (Photo: © Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa)
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Otto Dix’s Gräben vor Reims II (Trenches near Reims II), 1915, with its vivid colours, strong lines and agitated brush strokes conveying Dix’s emotional response to this trench landscape. (Photo: © Estate of Otto Dix/SODRAC (2014)/Private Collection)

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