Arthur Lismer and the Halifax Explosion

This exhibition highlights the work that Arthur Lismer, influential principal of the Victoria School of Art and Design (now NSCAD University), produced during his time in Halifax from 1916 to 1919. With the exception of the large oil painting Halifax Harbour—Time of War, from Dalhousie Art Gallery’s own permanent collection, the works presented are a selection of preparatory drawings and oil sketches that were made in situ as the artist explored the city and shorelines on foot. These were not made with the intention of public display—they are observational and documentary, and served an instrumental purpose in Lismer’s overall development of large studio paintings.

The legacy of this ambulatory field work is its contribution to our understanding of Halifax’s history, both civic and military, during World War One. Among the most significant of these works are his chronicles of the Halifax Explosion, few of which are known to still exist. Today, their significance lies not only as a record of a formative time in Nova Scotian history, but also in the insight they offer into the working mind and hand of one of Canada’s most renowned painters during the years that preceded the founding of the Group of Seven in 1920.