Augustus John OM

A Canadian Soldier


Not on display

Augustus John OM 1878–1961
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 730 × 540 mm
Purchased 1941

Display caption

In 1917 Augustus John accepted an honorary commission in the Canadian Overseas Military Forces to work as a war artist for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. He worked in France until 1918 and was given free rein to paint what he liked on the Western Front.

This oil study of a Canadian soldier is one of a series of sketches that John made in preparation for a large-scale composition of the mining district of Lens, crowded with troops, stretcher-bearers and refugees. The forty-foot canvas was never finished but he completed an exact miniature cartoon for the subject in 1918.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 28 3/4×21 1/4 (73×54).
Purchased from Arthur Tooth & Sons (Knapping Fund) 1941.
Exh: Alpine Club Gallery, March 1920 (17 or 18, repr. as frontispiece); Sheffield, August–October 1956 (40).
Lit: John, 1952, pp.124–8.
Repr: Apollo, XX, 1934, p.165; Rothenstein, 1944, pl.34; Allan Gwynne-Jones, Portrait Painters, 1950, pl.137.

This picture is one of many paintings of Canadian soldiers which John executed at the end of the 1914–18 war.

At the beginning of the 1914–18 war John was considered unfit for military service (he had damaged his knee while mule jumping in Ireland), and it was not until the end of 1917 that he obtained a commission under Lord Beaverbrook as Official Artist to Canadian War Records. The artist was given the rank of Major and was sent to France where he was posted to the Canadian sector, which stretched from Béthune to Arras. John toured round this area making notes, and it was in a large house at Aubigny that he drew and painted his soldiers. It was also during this time that John collected material for the decoration of the Canadian War Memorial in Toronto. The latter was never built, and only the large cartoon which John drew in preparation for the painting survives; it was sold at Christie's, 20 July 1962 (184, repr.).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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