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Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous Art Hider pictorial of the Canadians in action at the Battle of Paardeberg in February, 1900, during the Boer War.

After a ten day battle, where Canadians were in the front line trenches, after a night march to their positions, the Boers surrendered on Feb. 27, 1900.

The Toronto Globe and Mail issued a special commemorative chromolithograph of the event in 1900, and honoured Art Hider with the coveted commission to create the painting. Canadians by the thousands hung this litho in living rooms and parlours to honour the men at the front.

Left one of the rare ones that still survive from this heady period in Canada's history, rescued from an attic in a rural farmhouse.


Canadians at the Battle of Paardeberg, 1900 (detail) - AH Hider
Orig. chromolithograph - Size - 43 x 59 cm
Found - Woodstock, ON
Signed AH Hider, Supplement to the Weekly Globe 1901
Harry Macdonough (1871-1931) & John Bieling (d.1948):
"After They Gather the Hay" c 1902

You are listening to an original recording from c 1902, featuring two of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough, and John Bieling, singing "After They Gather the Hay." Songs rooted firmly in Canada's rural traditions were popular during the Anglo-Boer War era, especially those that talked of being true "while I am far away."

Technical Note: To turn off this recording, use a hammer on the front of your monitor.

Arthur Henry Hider (1870-1952) - 1

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Art Hider

During the Boer War, in the days before television, radio, and movie houses, it was the war artist who brought great historic events alive for people around the world. They provided the only "action" pictures that the "Home Front" had, of what war in distant lands really looked like. (Hand held cameras had only just made their first appearance on the war front during the Boer War, but the images were small, showed mostly static camp scenes, posing soldiers, and were often fuzzy, making everything look minimal, ordinary, and boring.)

It was the war artist who painted the "action scenes" which the camera could never catch, in large glorious colour images which could be proudly hung in living rooms, parlours, offices, and hotels.

In Britain, Richard Caton-Woodville (1857-1927) was the most prolific artist of the war and became a celebrity for his numerous drawings and paintings of the Boer War.

In Canada, there was none better than Toronto's own Arthur "Art" Henry Hider (left as he looked at the time.)

The Proverbial Starving Artist: Art Hider was born in London, England in 1870, and came to Canada as a two-year-old, the son of a bricklayer who set up a construction business in Toronto. He was the eldest son among 6 surviving siblings in a family that did so well, that at one point, each member owned his or her own carriage and horse.

From an early age Art showed a talent for drawing and at 15 apprenticed - which meant working without pay - for a lithography firm in Toronto. He did calendars, labels, ads, maps, and paintings for a variety of commercial clients ultimately joining the firm of Rolph-Clark-Stone with whom he was to work for 60 years. His talent was in such demand that Arthur Hider never was the proverbial "starving artist."

Writes his grandniece, Nancy Geisler, "Art for him was always more than work; it was a passion."

The Boer War gave Art Hider a chance to show his talent to express the pride that Canadians had in the first military contingent Canada ever sent to serve in an overseas war.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Another fabulous and rare Arthur Hider chromolithograph, in the original frame in which it was found in Burlington, ON.

It was issued in 1902, by the Toronto Lithograph Company, and features the exploits of the Canadian Mounted Rifles accepting the surrender of the Boers on another occasion.

Art captures what for many was the gentlemanly behaviour that marked the opening year of the war; the defeated Boer doffs his hat to the courteous Canadians saluting his gallant fight against overwhelming odds.

And always, Art painted the animals with that special touch that won him acclaim as the best animal painter of the period.

Botha Surrendering to the Canadians, 1900 (detail) - AH Hider
Orig. chromolithograph - Size - 46 x 61 cm
Found - Burlington, ON
Signed AH Hider, Supplement to the Weekly Globe 1902

Paardeberg was the bloodiest battle of the entire Anglo-Boer War. It shows the Canadians staggering to a halt, under heavy Boer rifle fire from the trenches in the distance, where their wagons and tents are being blasted to pieces by British artillery.

Through it all, Art painted a clearly recognizable Col. Otter, the Canadian commander, who stands erect, turning to rally his men, completely ignoring the rifle fire that has pinned them down. One can almost hear the panicky snort from the fallen ammunition mule.

The Touch of the Master: Art infused even the dead horse with "life." It's broken body, the life completely gone out of him, contrasts sharply with the little Boer pony - whose face shows more war weariness than that of his master - and even more strongly, with the approaching Canadian horse, proud, perky, and raring to go. Art shows clearly why the large, magnificent Canadian horses were the envy of the British Army.

One Dead Horse: Art hints in his painting, of an animal tragedy of which the "Home Front" never knew.

In how many households, did Mothers tell a questioning child, "Yes, I'm afraid that horse is dead?"

Behind Art's one dead horse, lay a bigger animal tragedy. In fact battlefields were often carpeted with scores - at Paardeberg there were hundreds - of dead horses, in a war in which almost 500,000 horses ultimately died.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure A Champion of Realism: In 1899, Art painted the 48th Highlanders of Toronto on parade with such exquisite detail it made his fame rise. People could tell it took long hours of hard work to execute every single soldier portrait. Writes grandniece Nancy Geisler, "He kept props like muskets with bayonets and a 48th Highlanders cap in his house, and when he died, his favorite picture above his mantelpiece was a large war painting."

At the same time that Canadian artists of the "impressionist school," - like the fledgling "Group of Seven," - were starving, Art Hider, a master of the "realist school," was the toast of Toronto's commercial art world who saw that he gave them value for money, instead of a few random and vague splotches with a brush.

Only months later members of this regiment would sign up with the First Canadian Contingent to go to fight in South Africa.

48th Battalion Highlanders - AH Hider
Orig. chromolithograph - Image Size - 51 x 71 cm
Found - Barrie, ON

Canadian Pride, 1898: Before the war Art had already executed a military composition which drew attention to his outstanding ability as a painter of historical subjects.

Left is a chromolithograph Art executed showing the various uniforms sported by various units in the part-time Canadian Militia, at a period in history when Canada had no professional, standing army of its own. British regular units still garrisoned Halifax, Quebec, and Esquimalt.

Death or Glory: Art squeezed a horse into every painting he could, but also featured prominently, the latest innovation in the technology of war - the bicycle. There were many who believed it would replace the most celebrated warrior of them all, the lancer, right. Art wonderfully captured the glorious fusion of man and horse into a graceful military machine that once swept, in legendary charges, across old-time battlefields.

The lancers were the "Death or Glory" arm of the military; they refused to fight on foot and hundreds of them were expected to rout the Boers in short order. But the Boer War ended the era of the lancers; Boers using modern, long-range Mauser rifles, easily potted them out of the saddle long before they could even see a Boer, let alone get close enough to prick him with their lances.

World War I:
As a war far more terrible than the Boer War enveloped the world, Arthur Hider turned his talents to a cause that motivated all Canadians at the time - "fighting the war to end all wars."

His posters are wonderfully creative works of art that are only found now in the holdings of major museums

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005
The Military Art of Art Hider