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Alex Colville Biography, Career abd Notable Works

Alex Colville Biography

David Alexander Colville, PC CC ONS was a Canadian painter born 24 August 1920 . 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, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Alex Colville Career

He painted in Yorkshire and took part in the Royal Canadian Navy’s landings in southern France. He was then attached to the 3rd Canadian Division. In the army for two years, and because he was a fine-arts student, he was made a war artist in May 1944. 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. 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.

Colville returned to New Brunswick after the war and became a faculty member with the Fine Arts Department at Mount Allison University where he taught from 1946 to 1963. 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.

In 1966, works by Colville along with those of Yves Gaucher and Sorel Etrog represented Canada at the Venice Biennale.In 1967, Colville was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, elevated to Companion in 1982, the order’s highest level. He lived in St. Catharines, Ontario, for three years before moving to Nova Scotia. He moved his family to his wife’s hometown of Wolfville ,in 1973,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 the year 1981 he was appointed university chancellor of Acadia University serving in that role until 1991.

Alex Colville Notable Works

“To Prince Edward Island”

This 1965 painting is perhaps his best-known work. It features a woman depicted looking through binoculars, in the direction of the artist

“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. Reproduction at the wall in the film ‘The Shining’, position hallway, during doctors visit.

“The Circuit Rider”

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.

“Man on verandah”

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 November 25, 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.

“Infantry at Nijmegen, Holland”

Trained as an infantry officer, he did a painting when World War II ended. Based upon numerous drawings, it was called “Infantry at Nijmegen” and is now in the Canadian War Museum.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. The face of the first man is actually a portrait of the artist’s father.

Alex Colville Photo

Alex Colville Photo

Alex Colville Death

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.