Jack Nichols 1921 - 2009

Canada’s Pre-eminent World War II Artist

Plaque located at: 395a Sackville Street, Toronto, ON, Canada

Jack Nichols, from deckhand to painter, printmaker, draftsman, and educator

He lived among us, unnoticed and uncelebrated. Some who knew him even called him mysterious. But you may have come across him on walks through the Cabbagetown neighbourhood without knowing it.

But, in art circles, he was well known. His work appears in the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian War Museum and in many private collections.

Born in Montreal, and as many artists, he was largely self- taught. In his early years in Montreal, he worked with Fredrick Varley and Louis Muhlstock.

During the summer in the early 1940’s, he worked as a deckhand on cargo boats plying the Great Lakes.

Word War II drew him to enlist in the Merchant Navy in 1943. Shortly thereafter, the National Gallery of Canada, realizing his talent, commissioned him to produce drawings of shipboard life.

Jack Nichols’ big break came when the Royal Canadian Reserve appointed him “official war artist,” and this gave him the rank of Lieutenant, and put him to work on a number of Canadian warships.

He witnessed the D-Day landing, the destruction of a German warship convoy and other horrific acts of war.

Out of this came some of his best known works; Men on the H.M.C.S., Iroquois, Actions on His Majesty’s Canadian Ship, Drowning Sailor, Taking Survivors on Board, and many others. These artistic depictions of Canadian bravery in battle did not go unnoticed.

In 1947 he was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, which, at last, gave him the means to formally study fine lithography, printmaking and to paint in the United States.

In 1948 Jack Nichols went on to teach at the Vancouver School of Art. Shortly thereafter he went on to be a prizewinner at the Second International Exhibition of Drawing and Engraving in Lugano, Switzerland, and then on to display at the Venice Biennale. He has had exhibitions at the Ellen Gallery and the McCord Museum in Montreal, the MacKenzie Gallery in Saskatchewan, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Canadian War Records Collection in Ottawa and in Canada’s most prestigious venue, the Canadian War Museum, etc.

His friends talk of his intensity and his charm. They have described Jack Nichols as prodigiously talented, a painter who Goya himself might have envied.

Jack Nichols never advertised his accomplishments. He just walked the streets of Cabbagetown unnoticed in his own mysterious way.

John Fillion, a contemporary Canadian sculptor says of him, “he’s the finest draftsman in Canada.”

The Ingram Gallery invites you to share your memories of Jack Nichols. We live on in the memories of others. As such, visit often, spend time with Nichols’ works and publications, and delight in the legacy of a great Canadian artist and neighbourhood friend.

Cabbagetowner Gina Dineen (founder of the Cabbagetown Short Film & Video Festival) also did a short documentary on her friend Jack Nichols and his work.  It’s entitled Mystery & Light and can be seen on YouTube.


Photos courtesy of the Ingram Gallery

Photos courtesy of the Ingram Gallery


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