“… These sketches are in every line, in every tone, alive and horrifying, because their creator [Ogilvie] made them while he himself was deafened by explosions, blinding gun-fire, and spent days among the dead…”
– Josephine Hambleton in The Ottawa Citizen
A founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters, Will Ogilvie was the first official Canadian war artist, and was awarded the M.B.E. (Military) for his service. His symbolic and formal paintings were considered by other war artists, such as Alex Colville and Charles Comfort, to be among the best of the genre.
Born in South Africa in 1901, Ogilvie studied in Johannesburg under Erich Mayer from 1921 to 1924. One year later, he immigrated to America, and soon after began his studies at New York’s Art Students League (1927–1930) under Kimon Nicolaïdes, whose lessons gave Ogilvie a strong foundation for his war pieces. He also worked as a commercial artist. Returning to South Africa in 1931, he painted scenes that reflected his interest in figure study (African Day, 1931). In 1932, he teamed up with Charles Comfort and Harold Ayres to open an office in Toronto, where he worked on various art commissions. He joined the Canadian Army in 1940 and was commissioned as an Official War Artist two years later.
After the war, Ogilvie taught at the Ontario College of Art (1947–1957), then as a lecturer at the University of Toronto (1960–1969). In 1979, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He continued to exhibit with the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour and the Canadian Group of Painters until his death in 1989. His war paintings are held in the Canadian War Museum and his work can also be found in the collections of the Edmonton Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Hart House at the University of Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada.