Bruno Bobak, Cross Country Convoy, watercolour on paper, 30.5 x 57.2 cm, Hart House Permanent Collection, University of Toronto.


Bruno Bobak was born Bronislaw Josephus Bobak in Poland on December 28, 1923. His family immigrated to Canada in 1925 where a customs officer gave him the more “Canadian” name of Bruno. Bobak’s early life was a difficult one. The Bobak family moved frequently. From Saskatchewan eastwards, they finally settled in Ontario. Bobak and his father settled in Toronto with his stepmother in 1935. While the depression proved to be a challenging time in the city and work was scarce for many, it was Toronto that provided Bobak with the opportunity to become an artist.

Bobak was registered at a special school on College Street that was dedicated to developing the mental and physical health of under-privilege children. It was at this school that Bobak was introduced to the arts and encouraged to express himself. It was also at this school that he met his friend Gerald Butner who told Bobak about the Saturday Morning Art Classes that were offered at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Arthur Lismer gave Bobak the opportunity to help set up the class in exchange for the entry fee, and his training as a young artist began.

Bobak’s art education came from an impressive group of instructors and institutions. During the Depression many of Canada’s finest artists worked as teachers to supplement their incomes, and young artists such as Bobak became the beneficiaries. At the Saturday morning art classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto, Bobak was instructed by Arthur Lismer and Gordon Webber. In 1938 Bobak began attending Toronto’s Central Technical School with a faculty that included Charles Goldhamer, Carl Shaefer, Doris McCarthy, Elizabeth Wynn Wood, and Robert Ross. Bobak flourished at the Technical School and gained the necessary training to go on and become an acclaimed artist.

In 1943, Bobak turned 19 and did what many young men did during time, enlisted in the army. Bobak became a sapper in the Royal Canadian Engineers. He continued to practice art during his training in Petawawa, producing sketches of his fellow soldiers and watercolours of the military life. When an army art competition was announced, Bobak entered five watercolours, one of which was Cross Country Convoy.


Bobak won first prize in the Canadian Army art competition in March 1944 with Cross Country Convoy. The contest was judged by a prominent panel of artist including A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Henry Masson and H.O. McCurry. The official opening of the exhibition was March 21st at the National Gallery. Official opening night was a hit with reports of the gallery being filled to capacity. The event was attended by Princess Alice who purchased another of Bobak’s watercolours: Winter Scheme, Petawawa. An editorial review in Canadian Art commented: “the exhibition compares well in quality with the average annual shows of most of the regular Canadian art societies.” The reviewer’s only criticism was that the exhibition was showcasing primarily modern works that could not be widely appreciated among the public. The exhibition catalogue foreword characterizes Bobak’s effort: “The intention of this exhibition of paintings and drawings by personnel of the Canadian Army serving in Canada is not to produce a collection of professional war records, but rather to give insight into the life of the soldier as he sees it”.

With Bobak’s new found success and support from his past teacher Charles Goldhamer and from the director of the National Gallery H.O. McCurry, Bobak was given the opportunity to become a service artist with the Historical Section at Canadian Military Headquarters in London. Although Bobak did not become a war artist in the conventional way, on September 26, 1944 he did become Canada’s youngest with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. With a proven success depicting military vehicles, Bobak was sent to the 4th Canadian Armoured Division where he served from December 1944 to July 1945.

In October 1945, World War II was over and Bruno Bobak earned himself the rank of captain with his contribution as a war artist. Bobak’s accomplishments were summarized by Eric Heathcote: “Nine canvases, covering units of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division from Jan 1945 to the end of the hostilities. The coverage is good and represents a very thorough observation of the requirements of a War Artist in portraying units in a field.”


Cross Country Convoy
is a watercolour on paper, 30.5 x 57.2 cm. It is an early example of Bobak’s war art style which is considered to be expressive realism. Bobak’s strengths during this period are his talent for composition and control, and the composition of Cross Country Convoy has been described as one of the paintings most striking features. Riordon commented: “its most noticeable feature is a truck, balanced precariously on a hillock. This compositional device, to which he would return in the future, gives a human tension to the picture.” Some of the techniques used in Cross Country Convoy have been compared to Schaefer’s painting Summer Harvest, Hanover (1935, The National Art Gallery, Ottawa, Ont.). This influence is hardly surprising since Bobak was one of Schaefer’s pupils.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail in 2006, Bobak says he believes he would make the decision to be War Artist again, but he
says: "My images would be a lot stronger. There would be a great disapproval of the whole idea of military action to solve problems."


Bernard Riordon, Bruno Bobak The Full Palette (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions and The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, 2006).

“Canadian Army Art Exhibition,” Canadian Art, volume 1, issue 4 (April/May 1944).

MacGregor, Roy. “A celebrated war painter honours the ghosts -- and remembers the goats.” The Globe and Mail (2006). <[[|<span]] style="FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Candara','sans-serif'; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA">)>

Sir George Williams Art Galleries, Bruno Bobak Selected Works 1943-1980 (Montreal: Concordia University, 1982).