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Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will unveil the Canadians Opposite Lens, the latest Canadian War Museum acquisition

OTTAWA – On a visit to the Canadian War Museum today, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will unveil the painting The Canadians Opposite Lens by celebrated artist Augustus John (1878-1961).

The impressive painting, 12 metres (40 feet) wide and 3.7 metres (12 feet) high, is one of the key works originally commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook, the founder of the Canadian War Memorials Fund. The work is also the last of these original commissions to return to Canada.

“It will be both an honour and a delight to welcome the Duke and Duchess to the Canadian War Museum today to unveil the Museum’s latest acquisition, The Canadians Opposite Lens,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation.

“This impressive work of art, with connections to Canada and Great Britain, portrays part of the experience which helped define Canada as a nation during the First World War.”

Following the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the Canadian War Records Office commissioned John to paint a subject of his choosing.

He worked mostly around the areas of Lens, Liévin and Hill 70 near Vimy Ridge, the centre of important Canadian action in France in 1917.

Based on drawings he made in this sector, the massive image depicts more than 50 carefully delineated individuals set against a backdrop of trucks, ruins, an observation balloon, bursting shells and the mining landscape to the west of Vimy Ridge. Although John sketched in all of these elements, about one-third of the work remains unpainted.

The Canadians Opposite Lens was intended to be the centrepiece for a war memorial art gallery in Canada that was never built. Due to a lack of permanent exhibition space, the painting remained in the artist’s studio in London, England, where he worked on it sporadically until a year before his death.

In 1962, it was sold at auction and disappeared into a private collection. The painting was relocated in 1994.

The acquisition and pending conservation of this painting were made possible by the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation’s National Collection Fund, and by the generous support of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation.

“The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation is delighted to fund the acquisition and restoration of The Canadians Opposite Lens,” said Vincent Prager, Vice-President of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation.

“It further solidifies our support of the Canadian War Museum and their extraordinary collection of art which bears the Beaverbrook name.”

The Canadians Opposite Lens will be on temporary display for visitors in LeBreton Gallery until July 11, 2011. The conservation work required for the painting will be carried out in public view at a later date in a location still to be determined.

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions.