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Long-circulating notion that Alex Colville painted D-day at Juno Beach a myth

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

TORONTO - Alex Colville has been considered by many as the most prominent painter to document Canada's involvement in the Second World War.

But unbeknownst to most, there's one famous military scene he's been erroneously credited with capturing for years — a mistake his family has long been trying to fix.

Art websites, politicians and media reports from The Canadian Press and others have said Colville documented the landing of troops at Juno Beach on D-Day.

But it turns out that Colville, who died of a heart condition Tuesday, was never at the famous assault and didn't document it in any way.

"It's a mistake that's been repeated many, many times," his daughter Ann Kitz told The Canadian Press.

"I think at one point I said, 'Now look you weren't at Juno Beach, were you? and he said 'no, no.'"

While Colville was an official Canadian war artist during the Second World War, he was in England on D-Day, said Kitz. Although he painted troops landing at other beaches around Europe, Juno Beach in France was never one of them.

"That was something that got on Wikipedia and I eventually managed to get it off, but only the other day. I think a lot of people by now have taken that as a fact," Kitz said.

The 68-year-old Halifax resident first noticed the mistake on the online crowd-sourced encyclopedia a few years ago. When she tried to correct the entry she was told she'd need a certified historian to verify the facts.

When her 92-year-old father died this week, Colville tried to edit the Wikipedia entry to add his date of death and found she was able to make changes to the article, at which point she corrected the reference to Juno beach.

"I guess we've been negligent not to have corrected it sooner, but definitely he was not there," she said. "There's no painting that's called Juno Beach."

The Juno Beach reference was noticed by the Canadian War Museum after Colville's death as well.

The museum, which houses all 340 of Colville's war works, said it was important to set the record straight.

"I'd always known that Alex Colville was not at Juno Beach," said Laura Brandon, an art historian and acting director of research at the institution.

It's possible the error originated by someone mistaking some of Colville's other military work for the D-day landing at Juno Beach, said Brandon, or a piece by another artist could have been erroneously attributed to him.

"It's just an interesting story that a famous Canadian artist and a very important Canadian military event have been linked."

The Canadian Press obituary on Colville was prepared in advance earlier this year and included that Colville "famously documented troops landing at Juno Beach on D-Day," information the reporter had based on an article on an art website.

"We're really very sorry to have contributed to the misinformation about a great artist's work, " said Scott White, Editor-in-Chief of The Canadian Press. "We're trying to set the record straight now."

Despite the mixup, both Colville's family and art curators don't believe it will have any impact on his legacy.

"It doesn't in the end matter whether Mr. Colville was at D-day or not," said Brandon.

"What matters it that for many years he painted memorable, significant and important works about what it was like to be a Canadian soldier during the Second World War."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130719/long-circulating-notion-alex-colville-painted-d-day-at-juno-