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Canadian War Artists


Charles Fraser Comfort (1900-1994)
Charles Comfort was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the age of 12, he immigrated to Canada. The family settled in Winnipeg and young Charles became an apprentice artist at Brigden’s Ltd. To perfect his technique, he enrolled in 1916 in the Winnipeg School of Art, and lived in New York from 1922 to 1923, where he frequented the Art Students League. He moved to Toronto in 1925, opened his own studio in 1931, and obtained his first major commissions during the 1930s. It was the beginning of a long, successful career marked by many exhibitions and prestigious appointments.

In 1935, he taught at the Ontario College of Art and served as director of the Department of Mural Painting until 1938, when he accepted a position as a lecturer in the Department of Fine Art at the University of Toronto. He continued to teach at the Ontario College of Art and was invited to give courses at the Banff School of Fine Art. In 1940, he became an associate professor in the Department of Art and Archaeology of the University of Toronto, where he would teach for 20 years.

In 1943, Comfort joined the war effort and enlisted as a war artist. Initially posted to southern England, he accompanied the First Canadian Infantry Division during the Italian campaign. He painted scenes from the bloody battles of Ortona and the Liri Valley. He returned to the United Kingdom in August 1944 and then spent several weeks in North-West Europe in 1945. He was demobilized in 1946. He described his war experience in his work Artist at War, published in 1956.

Comfort was involved in several organizations devoted to promoting art, such as the Ontario Society of Artists, the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, the Canadian Group of Painters, the Federation of Canadian Artists and Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He served as president of the latter from 1957 to 1960. He was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Canada in 1960 and left that position in 1965 to devote himself full-time to painting.

Comfort is known primarily for his murals (in particular the one in the Canadian Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1937, another in the National Library and National Archives building in Ottawa, and one in the Central Station in Montreal) and his portraits (Governors General Athlone, Vanier and Michener). His war paintings and landscapes in oil and watercolour are also well appreciated.

Charles Comfort died in Ottawa on July 5th, 1994. In recognition of his work, Mount Allison University and the Royal Military College of Canada awarded him honorary diplomas. He was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London and an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972.

Captain Charles Fraser Comfort, in the vicinity of Ortona, Italy.
 March 1944. 

View this painting at the Canadian War MuseumView this painting at the Canadian War Museum