A. Y. Jackson, “A Painter’s Country – War Artist,” The Autobiography of A. Y. Jackson, 1958


One evening the Sergeant-Major came over to my hut.

“An officer to see you, Jackson, at my place,” he said.

It was Captain Fosbery of Ottawa. I stood to attention and saluted him. “Forget all that stuff, Jackson,” he said, “ we are just artists together.” He told me about the Canadian War Records which was being formed for the purpose of making a pictorial record of Canada’s achievements in the war. Fosbery, who had been wounded, had been to see Lord Beaverbrook, the organizer of the Canadian War Records. All the artists so far engaged were British; Fosbery had suggested to Lord Beaverbrook that they should give some of the Canadian artists a chance. […]

A few days later I received orders to report to London for an interview with Lord Beaverbrook. […] I waited at the War Records office until Beaverbrook came in. The conversation which ensued was brief.

“So, you are an artist? Are you a good artist?”

“That is not for me to say, sir.”

“Have you any of your work with you?”

“I have been in the infantry for over two years and cannot carry it with me.”

“Can you find any of your work?”

“ I might some examples in The Studio.”

The Studio? What’s that?”

I explained that it was an arts magazine and he advised me to try and find some copies.


I went on to the offices of The Studio where an obliging clerk looked up some back numbers with articles on my work, which I took to his hotel to show His Lordship. There were very flattering opinions and he was impressed by them.


My first assignment as a Canadian war artist proved, if nothing else, that army practice operated even in the War Records. The Adjutant sent for me one afternoon. I went to his office, stood to attention, and saluted.

“Do you paint portraits, Jackson?” he asked.

“No, sir, I am a landscape man.”

“Well, anyhow, we want you to go to No. 3 Earl’s Court,; there is a large studio that has been taken over by the Canadian War Records. There you will find canvas, colours, everything you need. You’ll also find Corporal Kerr, V. C., of the 49th Battalion. We want you to paint his portrait.” […] The Press had announced that all the Canadian holders of the Victoria Cross were to have their portraits painted by outstanding British artists. Hanging over me was the prospect of being returned to the infantry if I failed in this first assignment. […]

What to paint was a problem for the war artist. There was nothing to serve as a guide. War had gone underground, and there was little to see. The old heroics, the death and glory stuff, were gone for ever […] I had no interest in painting the horrors of war and I wasted a lot of canvas. […] The old type of factual painting had been superseded by good photography. […]

Source: A. Y. Jackson, "A Painter’s Country – War Artist," (: , 1958), 36-39

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