Artwork by David Alexander Colville,  A Book of Hours, Labours of the Months

David A. Colville
A Book of Hours, Labours of the Months

Published by Fischer Fine Art Limited, London, in association with Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
17 x 15 x 2.75 ins ( 43.2 x 38.1 x 7 cms ) ( overall portfolio dimensions )

Auction Estimate: $12,000.00$8,000.00 - $12,000.00

Price Realized $16,100.00
Sale date: May 25th 2017

Private Collection, Toronto
“Hotel Maid” (hand printed colour serigraph, signed, titled, dated 1978 and numbered 23/75 in the lower margin, subject 9.5 ins x 7.75 ins, unframed); “January”, “February”, “March”, “April”, “May”, “June”, “July”, “August”, “September”, “October”, “November”, and “December” (twelve colour photolithographs, each sheet 13 ins x 11 ins and matted); contained within the original portfolio with title page and three pages of text (the third signed and numbered 23/75 by the artist); published by Fischer Fine Art Limited, London, in association with Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
In this portfolio project, Colville continues the medieval tradition of the “Book of Hours, Labours of the Months,” defining and representing routine tasks of each respective month. In a traditionally agrarian culture, the livelihood of society was deeply rooted in the cyclical seasons and the responsibilities devoted to tending the land throughout the calendar year.

The artist's process also plays a key role in deconstructing the significance of the project. Geometry plays and integral role with the artist employing the “circle-in-the-square” and “sacred cut” to give the works unity with regards to the relation of space and composition, as a grouping. The ancient principles of architecture and geometry also gives nod to Colville's goal of highlighting the significance of details in the everyday, of giving weight to seemingly small details of daily tasks or labours. The artist's process and devotion to ancient principles of construction then becomes a labour in and of itself.

The importance of the activities being accomplished within the respective seasonal environments also highlights how the environment becomes a place of constant maintenance – a labour. In this series, it is not necessarily the traditional labours such as tending crops or tilling the land, though these are depicted, but rather the daily idiosyncrasies of life and the behavioural changes linked to the months and seasons of the year. The first thaw of March and bringing of new life in the surrounding natural environment, basking in the first warm summer sun in May, serenely gazing from an open window in August, taking in the last of summer before the season turns to cooler weather. Much of what concerns Colville is the human condition within the landscape and one's relation to their environment. In this work, the artist's signature preoccupation with and talent of capturing intimate moments in atmospheric landscapes is accomplished.

The artist explains in the accompanying opening text within the portfolio: “What seems important is that the idea for a particular month should have the kind of significance for the artist which enables him, one might say propels him, to make an image which is substantial enough, coherent enough, to be received by the viewer as a valid concept of the month even if, to the viewer, that particular image seems at first strange or incongruous. For example, perhaps only I would think of a crow as an emblem of December, of a tractor as expressive of April, but I have to assume that if my images are good enough that they be accepted as appropriate and may become meaningful.”

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David Alexander Colville
(1920 - 2013) Order of Canada, RCA

Credited as a Maritime painter, David Alexander Colville was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1920. Colville’s father worked in construction, so their family moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1927, and then to Amherst, Nova Scotia, in 1929. Soon after the move to Nova Scotia, Colville contracted pneumonia. Through his six-month long recovery his mother supplied him with art materials, which aided his blossoming interest in the field. During this time, he exclusively drew machines, cars, and boats.

In 1934, Colville began taking weekly art classes under Sarah Hart, as an extension from Mount Allison University’s fine art department, who taught in a style that was influenced by the Post-Impressionists. Later, in 1938, Colville enrolled in Mount Allison’s art department and decided to become an artist. Colville enlisted in the First Canadian Army in the spring of 1942 after graduation. Serving as a lieutenant in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and Camp Petawawa, Ontario, until he began service as an official war artist in England. While in Yorkshire, Colville made sketches of the preparation of equipment to be sent to France for the D-Day effort. In October 1944, he was present at the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Several weeks later he returned to Ottawa where he created paintings from his sketches and watercolours.

After leaving military life Colville was offered a faculty position at Mount Allison. After settling in Sackville with his family he concentrated on teaching and growing his family. At this time he was influenced by ancient Egyptian art that featured humans in frontal and profile positions. In 1951, Colville had his first solo show at the New Brunswick Museum in St. John. The works included in the exhibition included landscapes of what he saw around him in the Maritimes. This exhibition was influential on Colville’s life as it was the first time his work was written about in newspapers, the first time he lectured publicly on his art, and his first sale to a museum. Throughout the rest of the 1950s, Colville exhibited regularly in New York and throughout Canada in Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton.

Colville resigned from Mount Allison in 1963 to focus on his art career. During this period, he worked on important exhibitions, solo shows, and his inclusion in the 1966 Venice Biennale. In 1965, Colville designed circulation coins for Canada’s centennial, which allowed his work to reach the largest possible audience. During the 1960s, Colville was elected to the Order of Canada, received honorary degrees from Trent University, Mount Allison, and Dalhousie University. He traveled to Santa Cruz, California, in 1967-68 to work as a visiting artist at the University of California. In 1971, he was an artist in residence in Berlin.

Colville’s success continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He was awarded the Canada Council Molson Prize in 1974 and earned more honorary degrees from Canadian universities. In 1981, Colville was named the chancellor of Acadia University––a position he held for ten years. In 1983, The Art Gallery of Ontario held his first museum retrospective, which toured Canada and Germany.

Literature Sources
Ray Cronin, “Alex Colville: Life and Work”, Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2017 (
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977