Colville remembered as one of country’s ‘greatest painters’

Angèle Johnson
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SACKVILLE, N.B. – The Tantramar community is mourning the loss of Canadian artist Alex Colville, a man who became known around the world for the remarkable images he created that so vividly portrayed life around him.

This is Alex Colville's student self-portrait, 1942, oil on canvas, donated to the Owens Art Gallery by the artist. This portrait is currently on display at the Owens right now and is part of the collection at the art gallery. 

“I think he proved that it was possible to be a world-class artist and to be from a small town,” said Virgil Hammock, a former fine arts professor at Mount Allison University and an art critic/curator from Sackville. “He made his mark felt.”

Colville died last Tuesday at his home in Wolfville, N.S. from a heart condition. He was 92.

Hammock said the acclaimed painter, printmaker and muralist leaves behind a legacy of original work that had a broad appeal to audiences all around the world, as many of his paintings typified the simple everyday moments of life.

“They spoke universally,” he said of the themes behind Colville’s works.

Hammock said Colville has always had a unique voice in the art world, as a realist artist whose works were often filled with deeper meaning than originally apparent.

That’s likely why his paintings were exhibited in so many important collections the world over, said Hammock.

“He was certainly one of Canada’s greatest painters, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a gigantic loss to the arts world.”

Born in 1920 in Toronto, Colville moved to Amherst, N.S. as a young child before attending Mount Allison University in Sackville, where he met his future wife Rhoda Wright. He graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 1942, then enlisted in the Canadian Army, where he began his career as a war artist.

Over the next couple of years, he completed numerous works, the majority of which are now in the collection of the Canadian War Museum.

Upon his return to New Brunswick after the war, Colville joined the faculty at Mount Allison’s fine arts department in 1946 and taught painting and art history until he retired in 1963 to pursue his art full time.

Colville went on to have his work exhibited and purchased by many major galleries and private collectors around the world, from Ottawa to New York, from Germany to Paris.

In 1965, Colville was commissioned to design the images on the Canadian 1867-1967 centennial commemorative coin set.

Colville moved to Wolfville in 1973 and later became chancellor of Acadia University, a position he held from 1981 to ’91.

The artist has earned numerous awards and accolades throughout his career. In 1967, Colville was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1982, he was elevated to Companion, the order's highest level. He also has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. He received the Governor General's Visual and Media Arts Award in 2003.

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