- Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art and the Great War by Maria Tippett, and: Morrice: A Great Canadian Artist Rediscovered by G. Blair Laing (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 54, Number 4, Summer 1985
- pp. 509-511
- View Citation
- Additional Information
HUMANITIES 509 other drawings - expressions of his superb capacity to conflate the analytic and the evocative, and thus entirely parallel in character to his writings - span the years 1835 to 1879. In the present study Ruskin's varied and profuse writings on the church - including the six hundred unpublished pages of notes 'left over' from The Stones ofVenice (1851-3)are collated and synthesized into a well-ordered and entirely intelligible whole. In the process, Unrau necessarily imposes an order from without; in consequence the sense of system which Ruskin could not sustain in his own mental life is here achieved through the critical logic of the historian. Inleading the reader in a step-by-step exploration of the church's physical fabric, it is in his use of illustrative material that Unrau applies his own imaginative ability to illuminate the text with wonderfully chosen and reproduced plates. Ruskin's daguerreotypes and drawings combine with remarkably sensitive photographs taken by the author to drive home points in the text and to show the reader what cannot be said. Every aspect of the building is laid bare. We move from plinths to capitals, from dentilled arches to carvings, from the porches to the sides and thence to the interior and finally the mosaics. Not an observation is missed, not an inspired piece of prosody ignored, not a telling illustration left out. Ruskin's remarkable vision slowly emerges before our eyes. To close this seductive exposition we are left to follow the tragicomedy of the attempts and failures of Ruskin and his followers at conservation. Such an explication leads the reader inevitably to questions as to Ruskin's purposes. Aesthetic preoccupations are with Ruskin ultimately subordinated to a larger vision - at once Christian and Platonic. St Mark's remains for Ruskin the exemplar of medieval spirituality. He clearly felt a profound nostalgia for a medieval Christendom which was largely a projection of his own visionary, tormented nature. (BRIAN PILKINGTON) Maria Tippett. Art at the Service of War: Canada, Art and the Great War University of Toronto Press. 136, illus. $24.95 G. Blair Laing. Morrice: A Great Canadian Artist Rediscovered McClelland and Stewart. 224, illus. $65.00 'Oh, but you should be an artist,' runs part of a conversation in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, 'I had one with my squadron during the last war, for weeks - until we went up to the line.' Maria Tippett takes this excerpt as a preface to her new book: just the right touch ofirony, one feels, to open an investigation into art and war. After all, any writer who takes on the subject of modern warfare and art, with its implicit rhetoric and propaganda, will find irony a useful weapon. Indeed, one wishes that in this book, excellent in so many ways, Tippett had used the weapon more 510 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 often. Too frequently in Art at the Service ofWar one wonders if the author is not caught up in the same rhetoric that, as a cultural historian, we should expect her to puncture. She writes, for example: 'For Eric Brown [Director of the National Gallery of Canada] itwas important to show that loyalty, patriotism, sacrifice and the dignity of labour could be found in war work at home as well as in the trenches.' And this: 'Florence Wyle and Frances Loring were certainly much concerned to demonstrate the nobility of Canadian women through sculptures of munitions workers.' Surely the words 'loyalty,' 'patriotism,' 'nobility,' etc, mobilized as they .are here, are hollow - at least in the absence of inverted quotation marks. As A.Y. Jackson said later, 'The old heroics, the death and glory stuff, were obsolete.' Tippett's principal focus is the Canadian War Memorials Fund, established in November 1916. It was the brainchild of Sir Max Aitken (soon to be elevated to Lord Beaverbrook) in conjunction with his friend Lord Rothermere, and it grew out of Aitken's activities as chief of the Canadian War Records Office in London. Its purpose was to put artists on the front lines, as well as in camps and factories, in order to have them record the Canadian contribution to the war effort first-hand - as...