Alex Colville / Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland,
Canadian, 1920-2013, 1946. Oil on canvas,
101.6 x 121.9 cm. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art; CWM 19710261-2079.
Lent by: Canadian War Museum, Ottawa
In 1916 Canada became the first country to initiate a war art program, and in 1944 Alex Colville became an official war artist-officer. He was interested in expressing the toll the war was having on its soldiers, rather than simply rendering the "local atmosphere." Although Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland depicts a specific place and group -- the Royal Winnipeg Rifles -- it reflects the broader theme of war itself. Here the figures do not appear to move through time and space so much as they endure it, pointing to the painting's intention to provide the means for existential reflection. The use of a vanishing point to suggest disappearance and infinity establishes a preternatural stillness. In an age that understood the modern artist as spontaneous, this work stands out. Of course, the apparent rationalism of Colville's process stands in contrast to its content -- the irrational devastation of war, its physical and psychological wreckage.