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Honouring the Canadian War Effort

Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, exhibition curator

The task of selecting a few key works for 100 Masters from the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the two institutions managed by one executive body, was more complicated given their vast holdings across many cultures, periods, and genres. Mark O’Neill, President and CEO, oversees both museums, and he arranged for a meeting with senior curators and collections managers. In advance of my visit, the staff had begun assembling a shortlist from the two national collections including paintings, sculptures, and artifacts.

Most of our time together was spent looking at works from the Canadian War Memorials Collection, which was established during World War I with the support of Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook, as well as Prime Minister Robert Borden. From the War Memorials Collection I selected paintings by Canadian artists Alex Colville and Lawren P. Harris. I also chose two by British artists John Byam Shaw and William Nicholson, which happen to be two of the largest canvases in the collection, and as such are rarely lent by the museum. Colville’s Infantry, near Nijmengen, Holland is the artist’s second work in 100 Masters, with the other coming from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. However, I was convinced it was the right choice given the painting’s link to Winnipeg—the artist has depicted the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Infantry Regiment from sketches he made as a war artist in February 1945 in Holland.

Alex Colville, Canadian, 1920–, Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland, 1946. Oil on canvas,
101.6 x 121.9 cm. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art; CWM 19710261-2079. Lent by:
Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

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