More than 90 years ago, the federal government commissioned artists to create an official pictorial record of Canada's role in the First World War, essentially launching the country's first cultural program. .
Among the first artists to interpret war as they truly saw it, they returned with stunning portrayals of death and suffering, much of it steeped in religious symbolism on themes of sacrifice. .
Except for brief appearances around 1920, however, most of this art and subsequent works from the Second World War have been locked away, out of sight and far from the Canadian mind. .
Now, 72 works by some of Canada's best-known artists -- Alex Colville, Charles Comfort and four Group of Seven painters among them -- have emerged from storage in a bus barn for a show at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. .
Titled Canvas of War: Masterpieces from the Canadian War Museum, at least half have never been on public display before, says historian and war museum chief Jack Granatstein. .
Granatstein's undersized and underfunded facility, currently located in a dark, cramped building that once housed the national archives, stores 13,000 paintings, 7,000 posters and 100 sculptures. .
Granatstein has long lamented that Canadians have neglected their history. The state of the war museum's multimillion-dollar art collection proves his case, he says. .
"You could expect Canadians to pay no attention to their history and their art and their culture," he jests. "But you'd think the money, at least, would have moved them." .
Certainly, the paintings are moving -- depictions of the sufferings of man, the indignities and horrors of war. .
There is Eric Kennington's The Conquerors, formerly named The Victims, a portrait of dead and living soldiers marching among shattered ruins on the bones of their fallen comrades. .
Over the Top, by Alfred Bastien -- Image from Canadian War Museum .
And Jack Nichols' haunting portrait of a Drowning Sailor.