Nancy Stevens: The Liri Valley Paintings

Nancy Stevens, Mignano (detail), acrylic on hardboard, 61 x 91.5 cm, Collection of the artist

January 23 - April 20, 2014    |    Regular Exhibition    |    Cost:

Nancy Stevens

This series of ten paintings by Nova Scotian artist Nancy Stevens was inspired by a trip to Italy while she was overlooking the Liri Valley, a long, flat corridor through miles of rugged mountains. Her friend made the comment:  “This earth is soaked in the blood of Canadian soldiers”. At that moment the artist was compelled to learn more about what had occurred in Liri Valley and, further, to tell its story through her art as a tribute to the many brave young Canadians, who, against insurmountable odds, sacrificed their lives during twenty-four days of relentless combat.

Stevens states: “In May 1944, Canadian soldiers fought one of the bloodiest battles of World War II as they cleared the way through the Liri Valley enabling the Allies to take Rome. Sixty-seven years later, I was in the Liri Valley. The restored Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino anchored hazy, blue mountains and a valley of sharp spring colours of budding vines and almond blossoms. From narrow roads where arches celebrated the triumphs of Caesar’s legions, I saw Canadian CF18s returning to their Italian base from the NATO air war against Libya, which Canada was commanding.”

She goes on to say: “I know little of war. I was five when my father went overseas. Canada paid for my university education as a child of the war dead. My teachers were war artists Alex Colville and Lawren Harris Jr. As witnesses, their paintings were of a visceral nature that a woman of a country that had never been occupied could not match. Time, however, provides the advantage of perspective. The Liri campaign had slipped into obscurity and I wanted to acknowledge the suffering and sacrifice of our liberating army and the Italian people as a tribute to the 70th anniversary in 2014.”

At the beginning of this project, Stevens spent a year and a half reading and thinking, researching Canadian war history, poring over regimental diaries and Second World War documentary photographs, making notes and sketching. She also revisited Liri Valley to develop how she would approach its story in painting form. The result was the creation of a body of work that involved a rich layering of information, a combination of images and written words, of symbols and metaphors, and a blending of historical and narrative elements with a view of the Liri Valley landscape as it appears today.

About the work Stevens comments: “I have attempted to reconcile my imagination with the facts of war in depicting combat experienced by Canadian soldiers as they fought their way through the Liri Valley towards Rome. In each painting, the under-painting is the colour of blood. Layered in a pointillist technique over cooler hues, it reappears in the sky and on the ground, in bombed-out buildings, on the cloak of the Roman god of war and petals of poppies.”

Curator: Terry Graff
Organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery with the support of Veterans Affairs Canada (Community Engagement Partnership Fund), the City of Fredericton, the Province of New Brunswick, and private donors.