Harold Gilman, Halifax Harbour (detail), 1918, oil on canvas, 198 x 335.8 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Transfer from the Canadian War Memorials, 1921. Photo: NGC

Masterpiece in Focus: Halifax Harbour 1918

Explore a city in wartime, and one of the most searing events in Canadian history, through two iconic works from the National Gallery of Canada collection.

Halifax Harbour 1918 depicts the city’s waterfront through the eyes of artists Arthur Lismer and Harold Gilman, following one of the most searing events in Canadian history.  Commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund to depict the Harbour following a maritime collision and the massive explosion that followed, the two artists — one Canadian, the other British — produced a pair of large and evocative works now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Bringing together sketches, paintings and related material, this new Masterpiece in Focus exhibition was produced in partnership with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and reflects both a city in wartime and the work of two artists at a pivotal time in their careers.


Friday, October 12, 2018 Sunday, March 17, 2019


National Gallery of Canada Gallery C218
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

Arthur Lismer 

Known to many Canadians as a member of the Group of Seven, Arthur Lismer was born in England. After studying art in England and Belgium, he emigrated to Toronto in 1911. He worked at a design firm with fellow artists J.E.H. MacDonald, A.Y. Jackson and Tom Thomson, two of whom — J.E.H. MacDonald and A.Y. Jackson — would also become members of the Group of Seven.

After Canada entered the First World War, Lismer moved to Halifax to become President of what has become the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. On December 6, 1917, he felt the shockwave from the Halifax explosion, and began sketching what he saw. His commission from the Canadian War Memorials Fund expanded his work to include sketches, paintings and lithographs. Lismer remained a successful artist for the rest of his life, and died in Montreal in 1969. 

Arthur Lismer at the Victoria School of Art and Design

Harold Gilman

Born in England, Harold Gilman is acclaimed for his richly coloured portraits, interiors and landscapes, and was a driving force behind the creation of London’s influential Camden Town Group.

Gilman would be the only British artist sent to Canada by the Canadian War Memorials Fund — an organization headed up by Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian newspaper magnate living in London. Commissioned to produce a picture of “Halifax Harbour in War Time,” Gilman made numerous ink, pencil and watercolour sketches of the area. Returning to London with his drawings four months later, Gilman painted Halifax Harbour in the fall of 1918 — the largest painting he ever produced. It would also be his last: Gilman died a few months later in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1919.

Harold Gilman, c. 1918. Photo: Beresford

Featured Video

Step inside the exhibition space of Masterpiece in Focus: Halifax Harbour 1918

Le port d’Halifax 1918


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