Nigel Stewart has found that living near some of the Second World War commemorative sites in France and meeting many war veterans has heavily influenced his art
This year sees the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, while June marks 70 years since the D-Day landings of the Second World War. The events of the past may be long gone but they are not forgotten in France, where areas of the country are home not only to sites of remembrance that continue to resonate in the present, but also to those who have chosen the area for their new life across the Channel. Five of them share their experiences and connections with us, and explain why they chose to start a new chapter in France.
Nigel Stewart is an artist and battlefield tour guide living in Chicheboville (Calvados; Normandy). Although Lancashire born and bred, artist Nigel Stewart now lives in Normandy, where the Second World War has had a great influence on his life. While a student, he became captivated by the photographs of Robert Capa, war correspondent for Life Magazine; particularly his iconic photos of Omaha Beach, which sparked a lifelong interest in the conflict. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that he came to live a few miles from Omaha Beach after he fell in love with a French woman, Christine, whom he later married.
“We moved to Normandy in 1992 not far from Caen. After several years of only art-related activity, I could see that with two young children, working as an artist was not practical to ensure a steady income. So, I took my fascination with the Second World War a step further, and decided to qualify as an accredited tour guide (guide conférencier) in 1999.” This coincided with the 55th anniversary of the Normandy landings, and enabled Nigel’s work as a guide.
Over the last 15 years, he has accompanied thousands of visitors, sharing his knowledge about the sites such as Arromanches and their military operations. He has also had the privilege of working with a few hundred war veterans over the years, sharing many memorable moments.
This constant contact with people for whom the Second World War is very much in living memory has also influenced Nigel’s creativity. Many of his works, whether in oil or watercolour, have the war as their central theme: “There’s an incredible contrast between the bloodletting and desperate courage of the men who fought on this soil, and the peaceful landscape that we see before us today. It is hard to make that connection. There’s no doubt that it has certainly had an impact on my work.”
Over the last two decades, Nigel has juggled his two roles, focusing on painting in the winter months and tour-guiding during the summer.
The 70th anniversary will be particularly poignant for Nigel as it marks 15 years since he was drawn into the D-Day legacy, and it also marks the end of an era: now that his children are older, he will be focusing more on lectures, allowing more time for his first love: painting.