Nichols, Jack

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NICHOLS, JACK (1921– ), Canadian painter, draftsman, printmaker, educator. Born in Montreal, Nichols is one of the best-known official Canadian World War ii artists. Unable to afford traditional schooling, he was mainly self-taught. However, he occasionally worked with the Montreal artists Louis Muhlstock and Frederick Varley, and considered the former his mentor. After he enlisted in the Merchant Navy in the fall of 1943, the National Gallery of Canada commissioned him to produce drawings during his service on Caribbean-bound ships. In 1944, he was appointed an official war artist with the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve. Nichols witnessed the D-Day landing, and traveled on a number of warships, including the hmcsIroquois, which together with British warships destroyed a German convoy as it attempted to evacuate the town of Brest in 1944. Nichols depicted this event in at least two compositions: the drawing Men on h.m.c.s. Iroquois at Action Stations represents a crowd of Canadian soldiers and their varying reactions to the violence at sea. Action Aboard His Majesty's Canadian Ship Iroquois again represents a dense mass of soldiers, three of whose massively muscled arms seem to press against the picture plane, while other sailors ready weapons in the background. Nichols' characteristically dark palette and his attention to facial expressions conveying fear, anguish, and suffering draw the viewer's attention to the vulnerability of his subjects as they face their mortality. One of Nichols' most famous paintings, the expressionistically rendered Drowning Sailor, depicts the screaming anguish of a seaman desperately trying to extricate himself from the maelstrom of water encircling him. Many of Nichols' compositions have Christian overtones. For example, Ammunition Passer is reminiscent of traditional depictions of Christ carrying the Cross. The oil painting Taking Survivors on Board portrays a prone man supported by another figure in a position which recalls a Pietà. At the time he left the navy in 1946, Nichols had created 20 works on paper and nine oil paintings. In 1947, Nichols won a Guggenheim fellowship which enabled him to paint and study printmaking in different parts of the United States. He taught at the Vancouver School of Art in 1948. In 1952, he garnered a prize at the Second International Exhibition of Drawing and Engraving in Lugano, Switzerland. Six years later, his lithographs were displayed at the Venice Biennale. Nichols lived and worked in Toronto. The artist had exhibitions at the Ellen Gallery at Concordia University, the McCord Museum, Montreal, the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Saskatchewan, and the Vancouver Art Gallery, among other venues. His work is owned by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa and the Canadian War Records Collection.


L. Brandon, "Emotion as Document: Death and Dying in the Second World War Art of Jack Nichols," in: Material History Review, 48 (Fall 1998), 123–30; D.F. Oliver, Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945 (2000).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]

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Nichols, Jack

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