Author: Douglas Hunter
Hardcover, 544 Pages, 6.5 x 9.5 inches McGill-Queen's University Press, 2022
The rise of A.Y. Jackson as a soldier and artist in the First World War.
A captivating account of the formative years of one of Canada’s best-known artists, Jackson’s Wars follows A.Y. Jackson’s education and progress as a painter before he was a well-known artist and his time on the battlefield in Europe, before he cast his lot in with a group of like-minded Toronto artists.
Jackson fought many battles: he was a feisty and opinionated combatant when he crossed swords with critics, collectors, museums, galleries, and fellow painters as an emerging artist. Moving from Montreal to Toronto in 1913, he became a key figure in a landscape movement that was determined to depict Canada in a bold new way, only to have a war dash the group's collective ambitions. Alone among his close associates, Jackson enlisted to fight with the 60th Infantry Battalion. Wounded at Sanctuary Wood in 1916, he returned to the field of combat as an official war artist - the first Canadian artist appointed, the only infantryman in the program - and militated for other Canadian appointments to what is now a storied moment of creation for such artists as F.H. Varley and Arthur Lismer. Jackson produced some of Canada’s most memorable depictions of the world’s first industrial-scale conflict, even as he reckoned with the anguish caused by the mysterious death of his close friend Tom Thomson. A life-changing event for soldiers, families, and nations alike, the First World War has been understood as a moment of stasis in the visual arts in Canada - the dead ground from which the Group of Seven emerged in the early 1920s. Douglas Hunter shows how Jackson’s war was a moment of intense transformation and artistic development on the canvas as well as an experience that tempered a young man into a constructive elder statesman for Canadian art. On his return home he was not only instrumental in the formation of the Group of Seven in Toronto, but a key figure for the Beaver Hall Group in Montreal.
Jackson’s Wars is a story of brotherhoods of painters and soldiers, shot through with inspiration, ambition, trauma, and loss, on the home front as well as on the battlefield. Hunter widens and deepens A.Y. Jackson’s world of friends, family, and colleagues to capture the life of a complex man and the crucial events and relationships behind the creation of Canada’s best-known art collective.