Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at a time when the Bank of Canada was in need of new bank notes. It was an excellent opportunity for a re-design. Until that time, Canada’s bank notes had been designed by the companies that printed them. But in 1952, the Bank took the unprecedented step of approaching a prestigious artist to provide design ideas for their upcoming note series. They hired Charles F. Comfort.

bill-design-mountain
Comfort proposed a series of backs featuring landscapes and woodcuts of coniferous tree branches. Mount Burgess in Yoho National Park, British Columbia.

Charles F. Comfort was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1900. In 1912, his family moved to Winnipeg where, two years later, Charles began working as an apprentice artist at a large commercial studio. In 1916, Comfort attended the Winnipeg School of Art and later the Arts Students League of New York. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he built his skills as a landscape painter and established a reputation as a mural artist. From 1935 to 1938, he taught at the Ontario College of Art. He was also given a teaching position at the University of Toronto in 1936; a post he held, apart from his time in Europe as a war artist, until 1960. He was Director of the National Gallery of Canada from 1959 to 1965 and made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972. Comfort passed away in 1994.

three-sketches-back-designsthree-sketches-face-designs
Early pencil sketches of design proposals for the face of the 1954 1 dollar. Classic through modern.

During 1952, Comfort produced a number of pencil and watercolour design models for the face of the new notes. Some were updates of the traditional style while others were radically modern treatments. The final face design was an assembly of traditional intaglio features organized in a clean and simple modern style with rich background tints. Comfort was ultimately responsible for the typography design and the composition.

The back of the notes was a more contentious endeavour. Comfort proposed several ambitious designs, some of which featured war memorial subjects and others with an ornamental background of coniferous branches with a scenic insert. Both the war memorial and the coniferous branch concepts were abandoned early-on in favour of a simple composition that mirrored the face design with a single, full-width landscape vignette.

The Canadian 1954 series stands out as some of the most beautiful bank notes ever produced. For a man with a reputation as a mural artist, it is ironic that Comfort’s bank note designs can arguably be considered his most popular works. After all, during the 1950s and 1960s, everyone carried a Charles F. Comfort piece in their pocket.

 

1954-1000-dollar-verso-1200x400

1954: The Canadian Landscape Series

In the early 1950’s, the Bank of Canada contracted noted Canadian artist Charles Comfort to design their next set of bank notes. A single independent vision would be employed in designing bank notes whose modern simplicity was to be an enormous departure from the long-outdated offerings of the printing companies.

1-dollar-bill-front
1-dollar-bill-back
The Charles F. Comfort designed note series had identical faces but for colours and denominations.

Officials at the Bank wanted the notes to feature images of Canadian landscapes that showed little or no evidence of human activity. They chose the final 8 images from over 3,000 photographs supplied from the collections of railways, archives and news agencies. From the Maritimes, through Eastern Canada, the Prairies, the Rockies and the North, what resulted was an extended portrait of The Great Lone Land vision of Canada. This vision was already out-dated, but served as the natural starting point for an evolving manifestation of official identity that would be played out on all future bank notes. As part of that process, the Canadian coat of arms is visible behind the main text block on the face of every note and would appear on the faces of the next three series.

1954-2-dollar-verso-1200x4001954-5-dollar-verso-1200x400 1954-10-dollar-verso-1200x400 1954-20-dollar-verso-1200x400 1954-50-dollar-verso-1200x4001954-100-dollar-verso-1200x400

Despite the intended Canadian character of the series, this is the only one not to feature any Canadian personalities. However, the engraving of the young Queen Elizabeth II that appears on each note was based on a photograph taken by the famous Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh; originally commissioned for a stamp.

 

bill-design-war-memorial

Comfort was also a celebrated war artist, as well proposing a theme of remembrance to his back vignettes

 

 

More Features

How Montreal Became a Quiet Capital of Modernism

FEATURES / February 10 2017 / François Cardinal

The Rebel and The Ghost

FEATURES / May 7 2017 / Michael Hill

‘I felt old’: Over the hill at 40? Could be, if you work in advertising

FEATURES / May 3 2019 / Laura MacNaughton