I’m quite pleased to share the cover art for my forthcoming Jackson’s Wars: A.Y. Jackson, the Birth of the Group of Seven, and the Great War, fresh from the publisher, McGill-Queen’s University Press. The book is slated for publication in Spring 2022.
The cover features a detail of A Screened Road (1918), (reproduced in full in the book, as one of more than forty colour plates), one of Jackson’s more colourful war paintings, in every sense of the word. Having been assigned as a war artist to the Siberia expedition (an assignment that eventually fell through), Jackson was forced to vacate his London studio with about a day’s notice, and left the painting behind, signed but unfinished on the easel. He had wanted to add an ammunition wagon in the centre of the composition, but having no time to do the necessary research, he asked the Canadian War Records Office’s adjutant if he could arrange for another artist to fill in this small detail.
Jackson wouldn’t see the painting again until 1962, when it turned up on the wall of the new home of the National Gallery of Canada, the Lorne Building in Ottawa. Impressed by a painting he had long forgotten, Jackson was also angered. Inspecting it on the gallery wall, he thought someone had tried to delete his signature with paint, and had added not only the ammunition wagon, but also some soldiers bringing up the rear. He recalled to Robert McMichael having written to the CWRO’s adjutant, “suggesting he ask [Frederick] Varley or Richard Jack to put it in…I have since wondered if he asked Kenneth Forbes…”
Jackson told his niece, Naomi Jackson Groves, he was worried that “after I pass on someone is going to claim to have painted the whole canvas. It was not Varley, he would have told me. It was not [Charles] Simpson, he was with me. I know one artist who is slippery enough to claim to have painted the whole canvas. This [note] is to be kept in your possession to see that it is not done secretly after my demise.” The National Gallery’s curator of war collections confirmed for Jackson that some paint had been applied over his name, and had not been done so recently. To McMichael, Jackson confided: “I don’t like Forbes and I wonder if he did it and claimed to have painted the whole canvas. I would not have put it past him.”
It was never proved one way or another what Forbes’ role or intentions might have been. The painting today is officially considered an unfinished Jackson work, and is part of the Beaverbrook Collection of the Canadian War Museum.