The McIntosh Gallery is playing host to two war exhibitions to celebrate its 75th anniversary as Canada’s oldest university art gallery.
Many of the works are by some of Canada’s most celebrated artists, yet are rarely on public display.
The works serve as a unique record of Canadian achievements and struggles and a changing political landscape.
As viewers walk through the gallery, they may feel sentimental seeing stories about the emergence of women in the workforce, the efforts behind the lines and the contributions from Western University to the war.
Interestingly enough, the McIntosh’s 75th anniversary coincides with Canada’s 150th anniversary and Vimy Ridge’s 100th anniversary.
“Because the 75th anniversary aligns with many other big anniversaries, it made sense to display these exhibits to look at the beginnings of McIntosh and what was happening 75 years ago,” says Catherine Elliot Shaw, curator of the McIntosh Gallery.
Shaw believes it is important to see what people were witnessing and the challenges that people were facing during these contentious time periods, while also connecting these experiences to the world today.
The artists poignantly depicted strife by highlighting the external pressures that Canadians had to face.
However, Shaw mentions that these works aren’t far removed from society. “Although the works document the unexpected challenges at home imposed by external pressures, this is not unlike our experience today,” says Shaw.
The first exhibit titled In the Beginning, 1942 reunites 30 paintings commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund during the First World War.
In the Beginning, 1942 features three works by Group of Seven artists A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley. The other seven works are by Canadians Maurice Galbraith Cullen and John William Beatty, British artist Algernon Mayow Talmage, and Australian James Peter Quinn. The remaining 23 works are to be displayed digitally.
“The works in the first exhibit document the things that were happening during World War I, like heavy manufacturing, and prefigure what would happen in the World War II,” says Shaw.
The second exhibit titled Behind the Lines: Canada's Home Front During the First and Second World Wars highlighted Canadian life during wartime.
Shaw acknowledges the importance of the efforts behind front lines and how these efforts changed the complexion of Canadian society.
A sense of empowerment emanated from the paintings through the portrayal of women at the forefront of the workforce.
“Many women wanted to serve. Thousands of women took male jobs, going into manufacturing, nursing, etc.,” says Shaw.
Other paintings depicted sights from airplanes, technological developments and manufacturing efforts.
Both the exhibits demonstrate the nationalist sentiment that reverberated through Canadian society during the time. These exhibits provide a lens into how our world differs today but also remains the same.
The exhibitions run from March 23 to June 25 at the McIntosh Gallery, open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.