Canada Post will honour Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton at the end of the month. Her 1919 painting Trenches of the Somme will appear on a permanent stamp Oct. 28, 2020.
It is fortunate that I arrived before it was too late to get a real impression. The first day I went over Vimy [Ridge], snow and sleet were falling, and I was able to realize what the soldiers had suffered. If as you and others tell me, there is something of the suffering and heroism of the war in my pictures it is because at that moment the spirit of those who fought and died seemed to linger in the air. Every splintered tree and scarred clod spoke of their sacrifice.
Since then, nature has been busy covering up the wounds, and in a few years the last sign of war will have disappeared. To have been able to preserve some memory of what this consecrated corner of the world looked like after the storm is a great privilege and all the reward an artist could hope for. Mary Riter Hamilton, Archives Canada
Mary Riter Hamilton was an extraordinary war artist. Most think of war art as the exclusive domain of men but Riter Hamilton traveled to Europe, on behalf of the Amputation Club of British Columbia to document the devastating impact of the Great War. From 1919 to 1922 she traversed through trenches and visited some of the most heartbreaking sites and created a stunning record of the WW1. Her images of the trenches, cemeteries and destroyed buildings across France and Belgium were to be a testimony to what Canadian soldiers endured from 1914 – 1918.
Trenches on the Somme
Trenches on the Somme, 1919. Artist Mary Riter Hamilton Oil on commercial canvas board. 37.8 x 45.8. Courtesy Archives Canada
Although not an official war artist for the Canadian government, Riter Hamilton’s works appeared in The Gold Stripe a veteran’s magazine. She created over 300 paintings, as well as chalk, pastel, and pencil drawings. She felt an urgency to “… paint the scenes where so many of our gallant Canadians have fought and died.” (Mary Riter Hamilton, Western Women’s Weekly, February 1, 1919)
Riter Hamilton donated 180 works to the government of Canada in later years. She believed her WW1 work should be available to the Canadian people and stay in Canada.
Mary Riter Hamilton stamp – Oct 28, 2020
Canada Post has created a great memorial to both Riter Hamilton and the Great War, for Remembrance Day. The poppies scattered along a trench in the Somme is both beautiful and devastatingly sad.
Check out Canada Post’s website to purchase the Mary Riter Hamilton booklet or see if your local postal outlet has them available as of the 28th.