Arthur Lismer, Portrait of an Officer in the 185th Battalion Cape Breton Highlanders, 1916, charcoal and pastel on Canson paper, 55.3 x 33.2 cm. Purchase, 2009.2.

Looking out to Sea: Artists and the Navy’s First Century

Saturday, 16 January 2010 to Sunday, 18 July 2010

John and Norma Oyler Gallery
Early Canadian prints and drawings

In this exhibition, we pay tribute to printmakers, draughtsmen, and watercolourists who have recorded the activity of the Canadian Navy in and around Halifax during the past century.

Although Ottawa had announced the creation of a Canadian Navy on 4 May 1910, Halifax’s relationship with the Navy began with the arrival at the Dockyard of HMCS Niobe on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1910. The ship became such a feature of the Harbour that Lewis Smith included it in his Sketches of Halifax brochure in 1916.

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 brought renewed vigour to the Harbour. The 17 lithographs drawn by Arthur Lismer, principal of the Victoria School of Art and Design between 1916 and 1919 and an Official War Artist in 1918 and 1919, provide a significant record of all aspects of this wartime activity – the transport of soldiers and sailors overseas, convoy and minesweeper protection for merchant vessels, the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve, and the fledgling Royal Canadian Naval Air Service. Etchings by Dorothy Stevens, another Official War Artist in Ontario, and Samuel H Maw, an architect who came to work on the re-building of Halifax after the Explosion of 1917, supplement Lismer’s record of the War in his lithographs.

During World War II, minesweepers and mine layers, corvettes and convoys, would once again fill Halifax Harbour and provide subjects for artists’ brushes and pencils. Separate from their responsibility to the official Canadian War Art Program, many war artists recorded the RCN’s activity in Halifax and elsewhere. Naval vessels continued to attract the attention of artists, such as Joseph Purcell and Roger Savage, as the decades passed after the Second War.

A small auxiliary installation to acknowledge the other two services will include Lismer’s portrait of a young officer in the 185th Battalion from Cape Breton that mustered in Halifax for the trip overseas in 1917.

Mora Dianne O’Neill
Associate Curator
Historical Prints and Drawings