Explore Alex Colville’s life & work

  • 1920


    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.


    Art Lessons

    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.



    Colville meets Rhoda Wright

    Colville and Rhoda Wright meet in the Fine Arts program at Mount Allison University. Their first year class was composed of just ten students; two of whom were men.

  • 1940

    Portrait of Nathan Cohen

    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.


    Sackville Train Station mural

    Sackville Train Station mural

    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.

  • 1942



    Alex Colville and Rhoda Wright are married

    Alex Colville and Rhoda Wright are married in Wolfville on August 5, 1942


    Army Training

    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.


    Liberation of Friesland, Holland

    Liberation of Friesland, Holland

    Returning Home

    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.

  • 1946

    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.


    University Commission

    University Commission

    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.

  • 1951

    First Solo Exhibition

    Colville’s first solo exhibition is held at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.

    Town Council

    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’.

  • 1953

    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.

    Soldier and Girl at Station

    Soldier and Girl at Station


    Horse and Train

    Horse and Train


    Family and Rainstorm

    This painting of Colville’s family is set near Wolfville, Nova Scotia where he spent his childhood summers at his parents’ cottage.


    Woman at Clothesline

    Woman at Clothesline


    Couple on Beach

    High Diver

    High Diver


    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.


    Hound in Field

    Hound in Field


    Milk Truck

    Milk Truck

    Faculty Association

    Colville joins the Faculty Association at Mount Allison University. Issues surrounding the standards of academic life are debated.

  • 1961

    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.

    Dog with Bone

    Dog with Bone


    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.

    Study for Target Pistol and Man

    Study for Target Pistol and Man


    The scene for Skater is set in the stone quarry at the end of Quarry Lane in Sackville.

  • 1964

    Boat and Marker

    Boat and Marker

    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 Mount Allison University

    Honourary Degree from Mount Allison University




    Honourary Degree from Dalhousie University

    Dalhousie University presents Colville with an honourary degree.

  • 1970

    Exhibits at Marlborough, London, England


    Berliner Kunstlerprogramm

    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.

    Molson Prize

    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.


    Berlin Bus

    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.

  • 1980

    Seven Crows

    Seven Crows


    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


    International Exhibitions

    Colville exhibits in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo and London, England, broadening his international exposure.


    French Cross

    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

  • 1990

    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.

  • 2000

    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.


    16 July

    Alex Colville passes away at his home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, aged 92.