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David Alexander Colville
Alex Colville in 1945
David Alexander Colville

(1920-08-24)24 August 1920
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died16 July 2013(2013-07-16) (aged 92)
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
EducationMount Allison University
Known forPainter
SpouseRhoda Wright (m. 1942–2012; her death)
  • Graham Alexander Colville (1944-)
  • Charles Wright Colville (1949-)
  • Ann Christian Colville (1949-)
  • John Harrower Colville (1946–2012)
AwardsCompanion of the Order of Canada (1982); Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts (2003)

David Alexander Colville, PC CC ONS LL. D. (24 August 1920 – 16 July 2013) was a Canadian painter and printmaker.

Early life and war artist[edit]

Colville House, Mount Allison University

Born in 1920 in Toronto, Ontario, Colville moved with his family at age seven to St. Catharines, and then to Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1929. He attended Mount Allison University from 1938 to 1942, where he studied under Canadian Post-Impressionists like Stanley Royle and Sarah Hart, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.[1]

Colville married Rhoda Wright, who he had been friends with since his first year at "Mount A," in 1942 and enlisted in the Canadian Army shortly afterwards.[2] He enlisted in the infantry, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant. He painted in Yorkshire and took part in the Royal Canadian Navy's landings in southern France.[3] He was then attached to the 3rd Canadian Division. After being in the army for two years, and because he was a fine-arts student, he was made a Official Second World War artist in May 1944.[4] His unit relieved the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen, Netherlands in mid-September 1944 during Operation Market Garden and remained there until the following February.[4] He continued on to tours in the Netherlands and Germany, where he was also tasked with depicting the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.[3][5] Colville's painting Bodies in a Grave (1946), a scene of emaciated corpses in a Bergen-Belsen burial pit, is based on images he captured with his army-issue camera at the concentration camp.[6]


Colville had some success while still enrolled at Mount Allison, exhibiting at the Art Association of Montreal (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) in 1941, and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1942.[2] After the war, Colville returned to New Brunswick and became a faculty member with the Fine Arts Department at Mount Allison University, where he taught from 1946 to 1963. Colville is often cited as belonging to the Magic Realism movement, and within this he developed his own style that influenced both a regional and national art community, as teacher and founder of what would become known as Maritime Realism. By contrast to other members of the Maritime school, the composition of his work involved geometry. Often too, in his later work, he seized on the fugitive moment, imagining a hypothetical "What if" something happened in the conscious world.[7]

Maritime Realism came to fruition during the apex of abstract painting's ascendancy both nationally and internationally. Colville influenced a host of students that pursued a realist painting style. Norman Eastman (class of 1952), Hugh Mackenzie (class of 1953), Tom Forrestall (class of 1958), Christopher Pratt (class of 1961) Mary Pratt (class of 1961), Daniel Brown (class of 1961), Nancy Stevens (class of 1962), Ken Tomlie (class of 1962), Roger Savage (class of 1963), Suzanne Hill (class of 1964), Glenn Adams (class of 1965), and Don Pentz (class of 1966).

He left teaching to devote himself to painting and print-making full-time from a studio in his home on York Street; this building is now named Colville House.

Colville often used his immediate surroundings as subject matter, using his family as models. Throughout his career, his wife Rhoda Colville, who was also an artist and poet,[8] served as a model for a number of his celebrated works.[2] Rhoda Colville's recreational life as a swimmer, skater, dancer, singer, pianist and cyclist was featured in her husband's pieces, often set in the landscapes and waterways of Annapolis Valley.[8]

In 1966, works by Colville along with those of Yves Gaucher and Sorel Etrog represented Canada at the Venice Biennale.[9] In 1967, Colville was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, elevated to Companion in 1982, the order's highest level.[10] In 1973, the University of Windsor gave him an honorary doctor of laws.[11]

Colville lived in St. Catharines, Ontario, for three years before moving to Nova Scotia. In 1973, he moved his family to his wife's hometown of Wolfville, where they lived and worked in the house that her father built and in which she was born. The Colvilles had three sons, a daughter, and eight grandchildren.

In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Colville aligned himself with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and was a card-carrying party member for many years. In 1981 he was appointed chancellor of Nova Scotia's Acadia University serving in that role until 1991.[12]


Colville died on 16 July 2013 at his house in Wolfville at the age of 92 of a heart condition. His wife Rhoda Wright died on 29 December 2012. They are survived by three of their four children, Graham, Charles, and Ann. Their second son, John, died on 22 February 2012.


Alex Colville Star on Canada's Walk of Fame

Colville exhibited extensively across Canada and internationally including at the Tate Gallery in London and the Beijing Exhibition Centre in Beijing. In 1983, an international touring retrospective of his work was organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 2003, The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia organized an exhibition titled Alex Colville: Return curated by Tom Smart. In 2014, the Art Gallery of Ontario organized Alex Colville, the largest exhibition of the artist's work to date.[13]

Alex Colville's work is found in many collections including the Owens Art Gallery at Mount Allison University. The Owens also maintains Colville House, the private home of Colville which acts as an exhibit space for his work. Colville's work can also be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Cape Breton University Art Gallery in Sydney, Nova Scotia, the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne and the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover, Germany.

Notable works[edit]

Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland[edit]

Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland

Trained as an infantry officer, he did a painting when World War II ended. Based upon numerous drawings, it was called Infantry and is now in the Canadian War Museum.[4] It represents a platoon of Canadian soldiers spread out and marching along both sides of a road. Colville believed it conveyed his perception of war, as both heroism and enduring persistence among nature's elements and constant danger.[4] The face of the first man is actually a portrait of the artist's father.

Horse and Train[edit]

Horse and Train

This 1954 work was inspired by two lines from the poet Roy Campbell:

Against a regiment I oppose a brain
And a dark horse against an armored train.

Horse and Train is a part of the Art Gallery of Hamilton's permanent collection; Dominion Foundries and Steel, Ltd. (Dofasco Inc) donated the painting in 1957. It appears on the cover of the album Night Vision by Bruce Cockburn. Alex Colville and Horse and Train are mentioned in the introduction (and in the story itself) of Nova Scotia fiction writer Barry Wood's short story Nowhere to Go published in England's Postscripts #14 in 2008. The painting can also be seen in the film The Shining (1980), hanging in a hallway during the doctor's visit.

To Prince Edward Island[edit]

This 1965[14] painting is perhaps his best-known work.[15] It features a woman depicted looking through binoculars, in the direction of the artist. Colville describes this work as an exploration of "the searching vision of the female" contrasted with the "stupid and passive" man, who she occludes. "The woman sees, I suppose, and the man does not."[16][17] To Prince Edward Island is referenced in Korean Canadian artist Jin-me Yoon's series Long View (2017), specifically in the photograph Long View, #1, in which Yoon looks through a pair of binoculars.[18]

The Circuit Rider[edit]

His mural in Tweedie Hall at Mount Allison University, known officially as The History of Mount Allison or The Circuit Rider.


His 1967 painting Pacific, showing a man leaning against an open door looking out to sea while a Browning Hi-Power pistol rests on a table in the foreground, inspired one of the definitive scenes in the 1995 film Heat with actor Robert De Niro.[19]

Man on Verandah[edit]

Painted in 1953, its sale at auction for $1.287 million set a record for a work by a living Canadian artist. Part of the estate of the late G. Hamilton Southam (1918–2008), it was sold at an auction of Canadian post-war and contemporary art by Heffel Fine Art Auction House on 25 November 2010. Expected to get up to $600,000, the price inflated during a three-way bidding war between two Canadian phone bidders and a person at the auction.[20]

List of selected works[edit]

Name Year Current Location
Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland 1946 Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The History of Mount Allison (The Circuit Rider) 1948 Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada
Nude and Dummy 1950 New Brunswick Museum, St John, New Brunswick, Canada
Man on Verandah 1953 Private collection, Germany
Horse and Train 1954 Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Family and Rainstorm 1955 Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York, USA
Couple on Beach 1957 National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Ocean Limited 1962 Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Skater 1964 Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York, USA
To Prince Edward Island 1965 National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Pacific 1967 Private collection, Canada
Dog and Bridge 1976 Private collection, Canada; sold in 2020 for $2.4 million[21]
Dog and Priest 1978 Private collection, Canada
Target Pistol and Man 1980 Private collection, Canada
Cyclist and Crow 1981 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Black Cat 1996 Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada
Waterville 2003 Private collection, Canada

Works in other media[edit]

In 1965, Colville was commissioned to design the images on the Canadian 1867–1967 centennial commemorative coin set. The set consists of the following designs: Rock dove on 1 cent coin, rabbit on 5 cent coin, mackerel on 10 cent coin, lynx on 25 cent coin, wolf on 50 cent coin and goose on the 1 dollar coin.[22]

On 22 March 2002 Canada Post issued 'Church and Horse, 1964, Alex Colville' in the Masterpieces of Canadian art series. The stamp was designed by Pierre-Yves Pelletier based on a painting Church and Horse (1964) by Alex Colville. The $1.25 stamps are perforated 13 X 13.5 and were printed by Ashton-Potter Limited.[23]

Several of Colville's paintings appear in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining, including Woman and Terrier (1963), Horse and Train (1954), Hound in Field (1958), Dog, Boy, and St. John River (1958), and Moon and Cow (1963).[24][25][26]


  • Alexander Colville, "A Tribute to Professor George P. Grant". Bell Lecture Series, Carleton University, Ottawa, 1989;[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adams, James (18 July 2013). "War was the crucible of his life and art: He loved to stay home in Nova Scotia, felt comfortable sticking with a realistic style through long periods when it was unfashionable". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. S8.
  2. ^ a b c "Alex Colville". Art Canada Institute – Institut de l’art canadien. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b "War Artists – David Alexander Colville". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d "Tulips Main Page: Sept 11th". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  5. ^ Celinscak, Mark (2015). Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Concentration Camp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-1570-0.
  6. ^ Brandon, Laura (2021). War Art in Canada: A Critical History. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0271-5.
  7. ^ Murray, Joan (1999). Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: Dundurn. p. 186. OCLC 260193722. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Obituary of Rhoda Colville | Serenity Funeral Home". serenityfuneralhome.ca. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  9. ^ "Past Canadian Exhibitions". National Gallery of Canada at the Venice Biennale. National Gallery of Canada. Archived from the original on 13 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Canadian painter Alex Colville dies – CBC News". Archived from the original on 17 July 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  11. ^ "Honorary Doctorates" (PDF). uwindsor.ca. U Windsor. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  12. ^ "Artist Alex Colville remembered in Wolfville, N.S." – The Canadian Press – 24 July 2014 [1]Archived 8 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine accessed 19 April 2016
  13. ^ "Alex Colville". ago.ca. Art Gallery of Ontario. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  14. ^ "Search the Collection". gallery.ca. Archived from the original on 3 April 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  15. ^ CBC Television, "Life and Times" Archived 31 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island, 1965". Art Canada Institute – Institut de l’art canadien. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  17. ^ Alex Colville, in a letter to curator Patrick Laurette, 31 July 1980, quoted in Andrew Hunter, Colville (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014), 22.
  18. ^ Tiampo, Ming (2022). Jin-me Yoon: Life & Work. Toronto: Art Canada Institute. ISBN 978-1-4871-0297-5.
  19. ^ Tim Groves and Costas Thrasyvoulou, "Against the Flow of Time: Michael Mann and Edward Hopper" Archived 6 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Screening the Past, 2008
  20. ^ McMahon, Tamsin (25 November 2010). "Alex Colville painting auctioned for $1.287-million". The National Post. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  21. ^ "Colville painting shatters sales record at auctions with strong bidding results". CP24. The Canadian Press. 15 July 2020. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  22. ^ Virtual Museum: "Art of Atlantic Canada"
  23. ^ Canada Post stamp
  24. ^ "COME TOGETHER, RIGHT NOW, OVER ME: A GUIDE TO ALL THE SHINING'S BURIED ART". EYE SCREAM. 15 April 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  25. ^ "Rookie of the Year: The Shining and Alex Colville | Unwinnable". unwinnable.com. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  26. ^ Alex Colville at the AGO: Jesse Wente on Colville and Kubrick, retrieved 3 January 2024
  27. ^ By Loving our Own: George Grant and the Legacy of Lament For a Nation edited by Peter C. Emberley. McGill-Queen's University Press. 1990. ISBN 0886291321. Retrieved 14 May 2024.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]