|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Alexander Colville (AKA: David Alexander Colville) is a painter,
printmaker, muralist and educator who was born in Toronto, Ontario,
Canada. He spent most of his early childhood in St.Catherines,
Ontario. In 1929 his family moved to Amherst, Nova Scotia. In
1973 he moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia (about 50 miles North) where he
currently (2009) lives and works.|
His primary mediums,
since 1963, are acrylic polymer emulsion and serigraph. He has
also worked with glazed tempera, casein tempera, glazed oil emulsion,
oil on synthetic resin, egg tempera, ink, watercolour and felt tip
pen. His subjects are his family, pets, animals, means of
transportation, local landscape, nudes, symbolism, allegory, genre and
(during World War II) war. His style is described as High Realism
(1). It is meticulous, crisp and precisely composed. The effect
on many viewers, regardless of the innocuous image, is often a
feeling of something disturbing or dangerous. For decades he has
created only 3 or 4 works a year. His stated influences are Edouard
Manet, Thomas Eakins, Ben Shahn, Edward Hopper and Georges Seurat (see
all in AskART). He is also influenced by the scale and
composition of ancient Egyptian wall art. Quote: "My work emerges
fairly directly out of my experience as a person - I suppose I should
say my total experience. I paint almost always people and animals whom
I consider to be wholly good, admirable, or important. I always
conceive them in environments which is, I suppose, why I am not a
sculptor.” – Alex Colville.
He attended (1938-1942) and
graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University,
Sackville, New Brunswick (about 10 miles from Amherst). He studied
there under Stanley Royle (see AskART).
He served in the
Canadian Army from 1942 until 1946 and as an Official War Artist from
1944 to 1946. His posts included England, the Netherlands, and
After service in the Canadian Army he
returned to Mount Allison to teach art and art history from 1946 until
1963 when he began painting full time. He was also a visiting
professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1967-
68. And from 1981 until 1991 he served as Chancellor of Acadia
University, Wolfville, N.S.
His first group exhibition was with the Royal Canadian Academy at
the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto in 1946. Subsequent
exhibitions include the Canadian Group of Painters (1947 and 1950);
“Reality and Fantasy 1900 – 1954” at the Walker Center (Minneapolis);
the Biennial Exhibitions of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of
Canada, Ottawa (1955,57 and 59); the Canadian Society of Graphic
Artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1956); the “Inter-American
Painting and Engraving Biennial”, Mexico City (1958); the Brussels
World’s Fair (1958); the Sao Paulo Biennial (1961); “Commonwealth Art
Today” London, England; “Canadian Painting 1939 - 1963” at the Tate
Gallery (London); the Venice Biennale (1966); “Three Hundred Years of
Canadian Art” at the National Gallery of Canada (1967); “Eight Artists
from Canada” at the Tel Aviv Museum, Israel (1970); “Twentieth Century
Canadian Painting” at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1981);
and “Canadian Artists of the Second World War” at the Robert McLaughlin
Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario (1981).
In addition he has shown
at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1955, 56, 57, 59, 61, 65, 75, 76 and
78); the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1954, 64, 68 and 72); the
National Gallery of Canada (1954, 61 and 62); the Museum of Modern Art,
New York (1963); the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1958); the Museum of Art and
History, Geneva (1959); the Norman Mackenzie Art Galley, Regina (1967);
the Edmonton Art Gallery (1978); the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia,
Halifax (1980); and many more.
Colville's first one man
show was at the New Brunswick Museum (Saint John) in 1951. Since
then, one-man shows have been mounted at the National Gallery of Canada
(1966); the University of Toronto (1966); the University of Alberta,
Edmonton (1970); the Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina (1976); the
Canadian War Museum (1981); the Art Gallery of Ontario (1983); the
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1994); the National Gallery of Canada
(2000) and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (2004).
is avidly collected (2) and is in many private and public collections.
Some of the public collections are the New Brunswick Museum (Saint
John), the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Museum
Ludwig (Cologne), Kestner-Gesellschaft (Hanover), the New National
Gallery (Berlin), Museum London (Ontario), the Museum of Modern Art
(Vienna), the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon), the Art Gallery of Nova
Scotia (Halifax), the Edmonton Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery,
the Museum of Modern Art at Georges Pompidou Centre (Paris) and the
Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, N.B.). The National Gallery of
Canada has 65 Colvilles in its collection. A mural example titled
“The History of Mount Allison” can be viewed at Mount Allison
Included among his many awards and honours
are eight honorary doctorates. He was made an Officer of the Order of
Canada in 1967 and elevated to Companion of the Order Of Canada (CC) in
1982 (the very highest Canadian honour). He was elected to the Board of
Trustees of the National Gallery of Canada in 1990, he was appointed to
the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada (3) in 1992, and in 2003 he
received the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts and the
Order of Nova Scotia his province’s highest honour. He was also chosen
to design the coins for Canada’s Centennial in 1967 and the Governor
General’s Award Medal in 1978. His painting “Family and Rainstorm”
(1952) was used on a postage stamp in 1982.
In 1984 the
film Alex Colville - The Splendour of Order was produced by Minerva
Films and in 2000 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced and
aired the documentary The Life and Times of Alex Colville.
There are also six books about him and his work: The Art of Alex Colville (1972), by Helen J. Dow; Alex Colville: Diary of a War Artist (1983), compiled by Graham Metson and Cheryl Lean; Colville (1983), by David Burnett; Alex Colville – The Observer Observed (1994), by Mark A. Cheetham; Alex Colville: Paintings Prints and Processes 1983-1994 (1995), by Philip Fry; and Alex Colville: Return (2003), by Tom Smart.
(1) According to Paul Duval in his book High Realism in Canada,
it's essential qualities are: “objectivity of vision, sharpness of
definition, precision of technique, accuracy of detail and excellence
(2) His highest auction price to date is
$600,000.00, in 2007, for his 1951 (24" X 32") painting titled Two
Pacers. Source Canadian Art Sales Index - 2009 Edition, Westbridge
Publications Ltd. This ranks Colville as number 14 on the list of
Canadian artists with the highest prices at auction. He is also the
only living artist on the list of the top 100 Canadian paintings at
(3) Members include all living Prime Ministers,
Governors General, cabinet ministers, Chief Justices, members of the
Security Intelligence Review Committee and occasionally, a
distinguished citizen not in politics or government. It is
primarily an honorary body and the members can put “Honourable” before
their name and “P.C.” after. The last meeting was on March
27,1981 to give formal consent to the marriage of the Prince of Wales
and Lady Diana Spencer.
Prepared and Contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist.|
Alex Colville, Leading Canadian Artist, Dies at 92
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
Alex Colville, a celebrated Canadian painter who revealed emotional and cultural tension in his spare and precise depictions of moments that might otherwise seem mundane — a middle-aged kiss through the window of a Honda Civic, a summer ferry ride, a surveyor taking the measure of marshlands meeting the sea — died on Tuesday at his home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He was 92.
His death was confirmed by his son Graham.
Mr. Colville, who worked as an artist for the Canadian military during World War II, received international attention early in his career, including several gallery exhibitions in Manhattan in the 1950s and in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. His works are in many major collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Center in Paris.
But at a time when the art world was tilting toward abstraction and internationalism, Mr. Colville was also something of an outsider, dedicated to figurative painting and to his native Canada, where he was revered by many as “painter laureate.” In 1965, he was commissioned by the government to design commemorative coins for Canada’s centennial. In his final decades, he collected a series of honors; most notably, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, a lifetime achievement award.
In 2004 the art historian Martin Kemp called Mr. Colville “the best Canadian artist of his time.” Comparing Mr. Colville to the English Romantic painter John Constable, he wrote, “He is a local painter in the sense that Constable was local, creating art that has to draw nourishment from scenes known intimately in order to find a wider truth.”
Mr. Colville was inspired by a range of figurative painters, including Edward Hopper and George Tooker, as well as Giotto. Throughout his career he pursued a synthesis of compositional exactness and psychological complexity.
Among Mr. Colville’s most noted works is Horse and Train, from 1954. The painting, which is on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, in Ontario, shows a dark horse galloping down railroad tracks, away from the viewer and into the path of an oncoming train. Mr. Colville has said the painting was inspired by a couplet written by the South African poet Roy Campbell: “Against a regiment I oppose a brain,/And a dark horse against an armoured train.”
Mr. Kemp, a professor at Oxford at the time, wrote about Mr. Colville in the journal Nature, focusing on his painstaking and mathematical process for accurately representing figures and landscapes in perspective. For his 2001 work The Surveyor, Mr. Colville spent 14 months making nearly 30 drawings and geometrical studies.
“Colville’s art is underpinned by his quest for order from apparent disorder,” Mr. Kemp wrote. “He searches, like Piero della Francesca in the Renaissance or Georges Seurat in the late 19th century, for what we can find beneath and within the surface of appearances if we probe intensively enough.”
David Alexander Colville was born in Toronto on Aug. 24, 1920. His family moved to Nova Scotia in 1929. He received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick in 1942 and enlisted the same year in the Canadian Army. He traveled to Europe as a military artist in 1944.
He was on the faculty at Mount Allison from 1946 until 1963, when he retired to paint full time. He continued to teach, however, holding visiting positions at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and in Germany.
In 1973, he moved with his wife, the former Rhoda Wright, to Wolfville, her childhood home. Mrs. Colville was frequently the model for female figures in her husband’s paintings.
“My mother was his muse,” Graham Colville said. “She was also a partner, very equal.”
The Colvilles had been married for 70 years when Mrs. Colville died in December.
In addition to his son Graham, Mr. Colville is survived by another son, Charles; a daughter, Ann Kitz; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Another son, John, died last year.
Graham Colville noted that while his father is closely associated with Canada, many of his first successes came elsewhere.
“It’s a strange sort of journey,” he said, “sort of starting outside of Canada and then coming home.”
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