David Alexander Colville was born in Toronto on 24 August 1920. In 1929 his family moved to Amherst, Nova Scotia. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University in 1942, he married Rhoda Wright, and enlisted in the Canadian Army. Following the war, he taught drawing and painting at Mount Allison University from 1946 until 1963, when he retired to paint full-time.
Though most of his peers had turned to abstraction, Colville remained true to his own style. He steadily rose to the top of art world through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, exhibiting across Canada, Europe and Asia, and representing Canada at the prestigious Venice Biennale. His paintings inspired constant debate and controversy: some critics hailed him as “the most important realist painter of the Western world” and “the best Canadian artist of his time,” while others dismissed his work as “regional” and “mediocre.” Still, the accolades were plentiful: honorary degrees, prizes, a Governor General’s Award and an appointment to the Order of Canada. In 1973 Alex and Rhoda moved to her childhood home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Colville died on 16 July 2013, just seven months after Rhoda’s death.
I wanted to live out of the art game.• Alex Colville
Alex Colville, age 11, near Tidnish, Nova Scotia, where his family had a summer cottage.
Alex Colville worked as an official World War II artist from 1944 until 1946.
Alex Colville in conversation with Barbara Frum.
The artist discusses his life and work in this interview recorded at the AGO in 1983. Via CBC’s The National.