Orville Fisher and Capturing War Through Art

| November 4, 2014

During the First and Second World Wars, war artists played an important role in capturing the conditions, emotions, and events that took place. They were also able to capture the many aspects of war that a camera might miss both on the battlefields and on the home front. During the First World War, Canadian Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) established the Canadian War Memorials Fund as part of the Canadian War Records Office. Through this program, more than 60 artists were hired to document war through sketches, paintings, and sculptures. In 1939, artists were once again called upon the depict the Canadian and international efforts during the Second World War. Although artists began creating working early on in the war, it wasn’t until 1943 that Canada created the official Canadian War Art Program, part of the Department of National Defence. During the Second World War, 32 artists were commissioned to create works spanning Canadian military activities in Europe, North Africa, on the Pacific and Atlantic, and on the Canadian home front. Many of the war artists who served in the First and Second World War included prominent Canadians including: Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson and Frederick Varley (who subsequently formed the Group of Seven), Alex Colville, Lawren P. Harris, Pegi Nicol MacLeod, and Jack Nicols.

One of the Canadian war artists who has a special connection to the Juno Beach Centre is Orville Fisher. On 6 June 1944, Fisher was the only Allied war artist to land in Normandy. Prior to the war, Fisher attended the Vancouver School of Art and studied under First World War and Group of Seven artists, Frederick Varley and Lawren Harris. His first major artistic commission was at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco where he painted murals for the British Columbia pavilion. On the outbreak of war, Orville originally applied for a position as an official war artist, but eager to see action, he enlisted and worked as a sapper. In 1943 he became one of Canada’s official war artists.

On 6 June 1944, he landed on Juno Beach with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Waiting to go ashore on a Landing Ship Tank, Fisher made the decision to remove his pack filled with 30kg of art supplies and strapped a water proof sketch pad and charcoal pencil to his arm. Once on the beach, Orville began to sketch the battle and destruction unfolding before him. His works depict the chaos and bloodshed of 6 June 1944, beginning with the treacherous journey across the English Channel to Normandy, the disembarkment of the landing crafts into the water, and the struggle up the beach to secure the area from the Germans.

Throughout the war, Orville created 246 sketches that he would go on to create full size watercolour and oil paintings. Orville’s works now resides in the Canadian War Museum where they continue to captivate visitors ensures that the memory of D-Day lives on 70 years later.

*Biographical information courtesy of Historica Canada, The Canadian War Museum, and Legion Magazine. Images courtesy of The Canadian War Museum

Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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