Snapshots in History: July 16: Remembering Alex Colville

July 16, 2017 | John P.

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Give us the ships, poster by Alex Colville

(Credit: Canada. Wartime Information Board, 1941. Contributor: Alex Colville)

(Digitization Poster at: Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Room - Call Number/Accession Number 1939-45. Industrial production Item 10. L.)

On July 16 and beyond, take a moment to reflect upon the contribution of David Alexander “Alex” Colville (Born: August 24, 1920 in Toronto, Ontario; Died: July 16, 2013 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia). The official website of Alex Colville noted that his paintings “bear more affinity to the American Precisionists of the 1930s than to photo-realism,” a statement supported by Colville's many sketches and studies that helped to create an abstract, geometric base before the actual drawings were created from a live model and proportioned according to plan. After this, a painstaking and laborious painting process would commence with the application of thinned paint to a primed wooden panel. At the conclusion of the painting process, transparent lacquer would be applied to seal the opaque surface.

During World War 2, Colville enlisted in the Canadian Army under the auspices of the War Artist Program, served in the European theatre of war, and established himself as an important war artist. Colville’s work is exhibited in a variety of locations including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Cape Breton University Art Gallery, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Musée National d'Art Moderne and the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, France, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, Germany and the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover, Germany.

Consider the following titles for loan from Toronto Public Library collections about Alex Colville and his work:

  Alex Colville diary of a war artist

Book, 1981.

Those interested in the importance of Canadian war art in World War 2 and Alex Colville’s connection thereto should consider examining this book. In 1982, Mr. Colville donated his remaining wartime drawings and sketches to the Canadian War Museum to join the museum’s War Art Collection. View online representations of some of Mr. Colville’s war art


Alex Colville return

Book, 2004.

Art curator Tom Smart focuses on Colville’s work for a 10-year period, highlighting 18 paintings, prints, and selected preliminary drawings. Smart offeres the reader a biographical sketch of the artist’s influence and life and emphasizes Colville’s practice of magic realism. This book pays attention to favourite subjects, composition, technique and recurring themes of doubling, ordering, longing and morality. Smart does not hide differences of opinion that he has with Mr. Colville.

Alex Colville the observer observed

Book, 1994. (Series: Canadian biography series.)

Mark A. Cheetham offers the reader a look at Alex Colville’s political conservatism, including criticism of government support for the arts through the Canada Council for the Arts that the author argued indirectly aided Colville by supporting Canadian public art galleries in which his artwork is displayed. Colville was known for critiquing other contemporary artists and their work.

Colville, by David G. Burnett and Art Gallery of Ontario, 1983. Book. Adult Non-Fiction.

The Art Gallery of Ontario produced this 1983 exhibition catalogue of Alex Colville’s work displayed at the AGO.