In society, the role of the artist holds great importance. It is through the artist's eyes, and their interpretation of reality, that we can gain alternate perspectives of the world in which we live. Canadians through the works by artists such as Arthur Lismer, Fred Varley and A.Y. Jackson gained a horrifying and, sometimes, eerily beautiful look at the world transformed by the Great War.
Francis "Franz" Johnston was another such artist that transformed the perspective of Canadians. Attached to the Royal Flying Corps Canada, Johnston gave many Canadians their first view from the skies. A manuscript by Johnston, found in Library and Archives Canada, sheds some light on the excitement and terror experienced by the neophyte aviator aloft with the new technology of the airplane. After the War, Johnston was amongst those who created the Group of Seven. Although he enjoyed a great deal of commercial success at the time, he is, today, not as well known as many of his Group of Seven contemporaries.
This Web site showcases some of the 227 works of battlefield art that Mary Riter Hamilton gave to Library and Archives Canada. Hamilton, an Ontario native, was hired to paint the battlefields of France during the years of post-war reconstruction from 1919 to 1922. Before the Great War, it was easy for Canadians to believe that society was at its zenith. The fruits of technology and ingenuity were seen everywhere from the airplane to radio. The images that Mary Riter Hamilton painted captured how far humanity had fallen, while offering hope for the possibility of rebirth.
Library and Archives Canada, R320, container 1, file 7
Letter from Eric Brown, Director of the National Gallery of Canada to Francis Johnston, 3 September 1918
Eric Brown was appointed the first full-time Curator of the National Gallery of Canada in 1910. Two years later he was made Gallery Director, a position that he held until his death in 1939. Franz Johnston’s unparalleled aerial views fascinated and sparked the imagination enamoring him with the Canadian art community and laymen alike.
Library and Archives Canada. R320, container 2, file 12
The First Time Up
In this amusing excerpt from a manuscript by Franz Johnston, he relates the journey that he experienced from recruiting station to the sky in attempting to do his "bit" for the "fracas overseas." The fascination and the terror of flying is quite apparent as Johnston gets a cockpit view of a world most Canadians had never seen.