Explore Alex Colville’s life & work
David Alexander Colville is born to David Harrower and Florence Colville in Toronto.
Colville family moves to St. Catharines, Ontario.
Colville family moves to Amherst, Nova Scotia
Colville’s father, David Colville takes position as superintendent at Robb Engineering Works in Amherst, NS. Colville’s mother, Florence, is apprenticed to a milliner. Shortly after their move to Amherst, Alex Colville contracts pneumonia and almost dies. The six-month long isolated recovery has a profound effect on him and it is during this time that Colville begins reading and drawing extensively.
For the next three years, Colville attends weekly art classes in Amherst instructed by Sarah Hart, a member of the Fine Arts faculty at Mount Allison University. Through these extension classes Stanley Royle, Head of the Fine Arts Department becomes aware of Colville’s artistic potential. Royle encourages Colville to continue his artistic studies at the university level.
Sarah Stewart Hart (1880–1981)
Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Sarah Hart studied woodcarving, clay modelling and drawing from the cast in New York City at The Cooper Union from 1902 to 1906 and achieved many awards for her work. In 1907, she began to teach part-time in the Art department at the Ladies’ College in Sackville. She taught wood carving until 1961 and in the 1930s she began teaching extension courses for the Art department in local communities such as Amherst, Nova Scotia.
Wartime Information Board
In his third year of studies, Colville designs a poster for the Wartime Information Board. Impressed with Colville’s work, Colonel Duguid, Head of the Historical Section in Ottawa, interviews Colville and suggests he enlist as a war artist upon completion of his University degree.
Summer Art Program
Attends Summer Art Program in Woodstock, New Brunswick. With Royle’s encouragement, Colville submits his artwork for exhibition and is included in the Art Association of Montreal Exhibition and the Royal Canadian Academy of Art.
Alex Colville and Rhoda Wright are married
Alex Colville and Rhoda Wright are married in Wolfville on August 5, 1942
After duties in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and Camp Petawawa, Ontario, Colville earned the rank of sergeant, receiving his first commission in September.
Graham Alexander Colville
15 July 1944. Colville’s first son, Graham Alexander, is born while Colville is overseas.
War Art Exhibition in Amsterdam
May 1945. A group of war artists, including Colville, help organize a war art exhibition in Amsterdam. During this time, Colville also spends a few formative days at the Louvre in Paris and sees an exhibition of Egyptian art, which has an important influence on his future work.
October 1945. Colville is posted to Ottawa for six months in order to finish his war art paintings. He lives in an apartment complex with other war artists engaged in the same activity.
Assistant Professor at Mount Allison University
Once Alex Colville’s term as war artist is complete, he is offered a teaching position at Mount Allison University. The Colvilles live in a university owned apartment. Colville teaches courses in History and Appreciation of Art, Design, Mural Decoration, Graphic Design, Still Life Painting and Figure Drawing while maintaining a strong relationship with his students and maintaining his own studio practice. For Colville, teaching art history becomes even more important to him as a painter than teaching the studio arts. All Fine Arts classes take place at the Owens Art Gallery.
John Harrower Colville
July 1946. A second son, John Harrower, is born.
Charles Wright Colville
February 1948. A third son, Charles Wright, is born.
Summer Home Renovations
The Colvilles purchase a home at 76 York Street for $5,000 in the summer of 1949. Colville takes the summer holiday to undertake renovations on the house, which help him understand geometry and architectural spaces in relationship to his artwork. Colville keeps a studio space in the attic at home and an office on campus.
Ann Christian Colville
August 1949. A daughter, Ann Christian, is born.
First Solo Exhibition
Colville’s first solo exhibition is held at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
Colville serves for one year on the Sackville Town Council, perhaps reflecting his interest in political life and his early interest in attending law school.
First Visit to New York
Colville travels to New York and forms a relationship with Edwin Hewitt of Hewitt Gallery, which supports artists known as ‘magic realists’.
Solo Exhibition in New York
Edwin Hewitt gives Alex Colville a solo show at the Hewitt Gallery where he is introduced to Lincoln Kirstein, a wealthy, well connected and influential proponent of magic realism.
Couple on Beach
Salem Elementary School
Colville goes for a walk and sees a girl skipping near the elementary school in Sackville. This sight inspires the painting, Child Skipping.
Colville becomes President of the University Faculty Association
Colville chaired a committee to draft a report titled The Idea of Excellence at Mount Allison designed “as a blueprint to be presented by the faculty association to the President, the Faculty, the Senate, and the Regents of Mount Allison.” The report dealt with all areas of the University including academic structure, faculty, students, library and community life.
Retires from Mount Allison University
Colville retires from teaching in order to devote himself to his art practice full time. By now, he is receiving attention nationally for his work.
The scene for Skater is set in the stone quarry at the end of Quarry Lane in Sackville.
Church and Horse
Colville depicts the United Church in Hastings, Nova Scotia, noting that the inspiration came from the riderless horse in John F. Kennedy’s funeral. This painting was featured in the Masterpieces of Canadian Art series of stamps issued by Canada Post. The stamp was released on March 22, 2002.
To Prince Edward Island
The painting depicts the ferry between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the only form of passage between the two provinces before the Confederation Bridge was built in 1997. Colville directs the gaze of the female subject directly at the viewer.
Government of Canada Commission
Colville is commissioned by the Canadian Mint to design a new set of coins for Canada’s centennial year in 1967. The coins feature animals, each expressing particular qualities: A dove on the penny, expressing spiritual values and peace; a rabbit on the nickel, expressing fertility, new life and promise; a mackerel on the dime, expressing religion and continuity; a wildcat on the quarter, expressing intelligent independence and formidable action; a wolf on the fifty cent piece, expressing vastness and loneliness and a Canadian goose on the dollar, symbolic of travelling over great spaces.
Represented Canada at the 33rd Venice Biennale
Colville shows twelve paintings at the Venice Biennale.
Honourary Degree from Trent University
Trent University presents Colville with an honourary degree.
Honourary Degree from Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University presents Colville with an honourary degree.
Exhibits at Marlborough, London, England
Colville is offered a year’s stay as an artist in residence in Berlin. It is Colville’s first visit to Germany since the war.
The Colville family move from Sackville to Rhoda Wright’s family home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Honourary Degrees from Simon Fraser and Windsor Universities
Simon Fraser University and Windsor University present Colville with honourary degrees.
Governor General’s Medal
Colville designs the Governor General’s Medal, awarded in recognition of outstanding student academic achievement.
The Canada Council awards Colville the Molson Prize, given to individuals in order to encourage the continuation of the arts in Canada.
Honourary Degree from Acadia University
Acadia University presents Colville with an honourary degree.
The message on the side of the bus reads, “Berliner Morgenpost hat viele gute Seiten” — “The Berlin Morning Post has many good pages”. ‘Seite’ can mean either pages or sides in German. This important note references the division of East and West Germany.
Chancellor of Acadia University
Colville is appointed Chancellor of Acadia University.
The mirror that the woman is holding references an Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian bronze mirror, which Colville saw and sketched on a visit to the National Gallery in Berlin in 1971.
Honourary Degree from Memorial University
Memorial University presents Colville with an honourary degree.
Companion of the Order of Canada
In honour of a lifetime of outstanding achievement, Colville is awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada. Established by Queen Elizabeth II in 1967 in conjunction with the Centennial celebrations, this award is Canada’s highest civilian honour.
Art Gallery of Ontario
A retrospective exhibition and catalogue raisonné of Colville’s work is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and travels to six galleries across Canada and to Germany.
Horse and Girl
Colville exhibits in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo and London, England, broadening his international exposure.
The location depicted in this painting is Grand Pre, just outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The French Cross memorializes the expulsion of the Acadians in the mid eighteenth century.
Woman on Diving Board
National Gallery of Canada
Colville becomes a member of the Board at the National Gallery of Canada.
Honourary Degree from The University of Calgary
The University of Calgary presents Colville with an honourary degree.
Dog and Groom
Appointed to the Privy Council of Canada
Under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the Governor General of Canada appoints Colville to the Privy Council of Canada, a group which advises the Prime Minister.
Artist and Blue Jay
Exhibition of Drawings at the Owens Art Gallery
The Owens Art Gallery holds an exhibition of Colville’s preliminary drawings, which travels to five other Canadian university art galleries.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
A retrospective and catalogue raisonné of Colville’s work is organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts following on the Art Gallery of Ontario’s 1983 publication.
Honourary Degree from The University of Manitoba
The University of Manitoba presents Colville with an honourary degree.
Honourary Degrees from Bishop’s University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design
Bishop’s University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design present Colville with honourary degrees.
Colville's Eightieth Birthday
In celebration of Colville’s eightieth birthday, the National Gallery of Canada holds an exhibition and a small public reception. The exhibition titled, Alex Colville: Milestones, runs from June 23 to September 17.
Governor General's Award
Colville receives Governor General’s Award for his artistic achievements in visual arts.
Alex Colville passes away at his home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, aged 92.