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Art Canadian

Jackson's Wars

A.Y. Jackson, the Birth of the Group of Seven, and the Great War

by (author) Douglas Hunter

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
May 2022
Canadian, Modern (late 19th Century to 1945), Canada, World War I, Military, Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price

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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.

About the author

DOUGLAS HUNTER has written widely on business, history, the environment and sports. He was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Governor General’s Award for his book God’s Mercies. His previous books include The Race to the New World; Molson: The Birth of a Business Empire; Yzerman: The Making of a Champion; and The Bubble and the Bear: How Nortel Burst the Canadian Dream, which won the National Business Book Award. He is also a doctoral candidate in history at York University, a Vanier Scholar and Canada’s 2012 William E. Taylor Fellow. Born and raised in Hamilton, where Tim Hortons first became successful, Hunter now lives in Port McNicoll, Ontario.


Douglas Hunter's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Douglas Hunter offers a fresh narrative that deepens our understanding not only of A.Y. Jackson’s personality and artistic development but also of the broader cultural history of Canada before and during the First World War. Meticulously researched, full of sharp insights and compelling, little-known details, Jackson’s Wars is a wonderfully immersive read – and a huge contribution to the study of Canadian art and history.” Ross King, author of Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven and Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies

“Providing much of the book's original content is Hunter's impressive use of unpublished archival materials, featuring samples that are new, compelling, and important to our understanding of A.Y. Jackson. Hunter's flair for narrative carries the reader along while Jackson's remarkable writing eloquently and movingly details his experiences as a veteran.” Irene Gammel, author of I Can Only Paint: The Story of Battlefield Artist Mary Riter Hamilton

“A remarkably engaging account.” The Literary Review of Canada

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