Artwork by David Alexander Colville,  Prize Cow

Alex Colville
Prize Cow

colour serigraph
signed, dated 1977 and numbered 3/70 in the lower margin
17 x 17 ins ( 43.2 x 43.2 cms ) ( diameter )

Sold for $4,945.00
Sale date: June 14th 2017

Private Collection, Newfoundland

Share this item with your friends

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

Born in Toronto, Ontario, the son of David Harrower Colville, an engineer from Markinnich, Scotland, and Florence Gault of Trenton, Ontario, his family moved to Amherst, Nova Scotia i 1929 where his father became plant superintendent of the Robb Engineering Works, a branch of Dominion Bridge. His mother was an accomplished milliner and Alex's artistic inclinations seem to have come from her, while his passion for planning, design, and draftsmanship was probably derived from his father's abilities and involvement in engineering.

When Alex was a boy he fashioned aeroplanes from pieces of wood and at fouteen years of age he joined weekly painting classes in Amherst run by Mrs. Sarah S. Hart, woodcarver and painter, under the auspices of Mount Allison University, Sackville. In his last year of hight school he was given a scholarship to study art at the University under Stanley Royle. He entered Mount Allison in 1938 as a Fine Art student although he could have also taken a scholarship to attend Dalhousie University, Halifax, to study law and politics. It was Stanley Royle, director of Mount Allison who encouraged him to pursue art. But Colville himself regarded art as his first love. He began his art studies with great dedication and made rapid progress because of the opportunity to work alone a good deal of the time.

Of this early period few of his paintings survive. Two of them were reproduced in Helen J. Dow's book “The Art of Alex Colville” published in 1972. Photos of two early murals remain as a record of his work and one was reproduced in Dr. Dow's book which shows Colville's exceptional ability at making his composition of an overhead view of three figures and a dog in the painting “Wounded Soldier in North Africa, 1941”. The painting shows two black infantry stretcher bearers carrying a wounded British soldier flanked by a comrade walking alongside a stretcher and a small dog on the opposite side.

The war was on Colville's mind and in 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian Army and trained as an infantry officer. Then in 1944 he was appointed a war artist and painted activities of the army and navy in the Mediterranean and North European Areas. Of his war paintings and drawings, 126 are deposited in the collection of the Canadian War Museums and are listed in R.F. Wodehouse's “Check List Of The War Collections.”

Colville returned to Mount Allison in 1946 as a teacher of painting, drawing and History of Art. During this period he was able to continue with his own painting. He was influenced by the work of Ancient Egyptian Art, particularly their wall paintings in which human figures are arranged in completely frontal or completely profile poses, and their technique of making a fine mesh of equal squares to establish the arrangement and scale of the figures in the composition; Georges Seurat, an important influence in Colville's work follows the Divisionism or Pointillist theory of juxtaposing small strokes of pure colour on the canvas to create the desired effect. Like this great French painter he paints slowly with a restricted range of colours (yellow ochre, light cadmium red, black, white, cobalt blue and sometimes light cadmium yellow).

He explained his attitude towards painting and subject matter as follows, “My work emerges fairly directly out of my experience as a person—I suppose I should say my total experience. I paint almost always people and animals whom I consider to be wholly good, admirable, or important. I always conceive them in environments which is, I suppose, why I am not a sculptor. In the first stages comes a series of imaginative drawings, very crude, then the planning of the design, making quick, rough drawings from nature, then the slow development of the painting. I usually spend several months on a painting and never work on more than one at a time. I guess my aim as an artist is, In Joseph Conrad's words: 'To do the highest possible justice to reality'.” Other aspects of Colville's work show the influence of Piero della Francesca (Colville's “Woman on Wharf” and Francesca's “Baptism of Christ”) and Masaccio whose subjects seem caught in a moment of movement, and contain a new solidarity as in his “Tribute Money” where the tax collector stands with his back to the viewer, a position of many of Colville's own subjects.

But if Colville's paintings appear direct and uncomplicated they also have been ascribed a symbolism to them as explained in Dr. Dow's book. A fine presentation is also made in William Withrow's “Contemporary Canadian Painting” with superb reproductions. In 1963 Colville was able to give up his teaching at Mount Allison and devote his full time to painting. But only after a succession of events which had begun with the gradual acquisition of his paintings by public galleries and culminating in the purchase of his “Dog , Boy and St. John Rover” by the London Public Library and Art Museum. This painting was entered in the Dunn International Award competition without Colville's knowledge at the opening of the Beaverbrook Museum, Fredericton and took a $5,000 top award giving him one of the most pleasant surprises of his life. Then his one man show met with great success at the Banfer Gallery, NYC, in 1963, which brought Colville twenty-seven thousand dollars. The gallery owner had traced Colville through one of his paintings reproduced in the book section of the “New York Times”, to the Art Gallery of Toronto and finally to his home in Sackville, then arranged the show that made possible full time painting.

Up to that time, Colville had barely made a living and eagerly snatched precious leisure time to paint during the seventeen years of his teaching career (1946-1963). The teaching he liked, but the other activities left him spiritually exhausted. His first ever one-man show was held at the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, in 1951 and subsequent shows at the Hewitt Gallery, NYC (1953) (1955); Laing Galleries, Tor. (1958); Hart House, University of Toronto (1958) (1966); Banfer Gallery, NYC (1963); Kester-Gesellshaft Gallery, Hanover, Germany (1969); Malborough Gallery, London, England (1970).

Up to 1972 he had completed 99 paintings, drawings and serigraph originals. This number excludes 126 of his war paintings and drawings. He seldom completed more than three or four paintings a year, spending an average of three or four months to make a painting. His media include oils, glazed tempera, casein tempra, glazed oil emulsion, oil on synthetic resin, egg tempra, acrylic polymer emulsion, serigraphs of exceptionally fine quality, designs for Centennial Coins of Canada (wildlife subjects), design for openwork gold medallion on a chain for Fischer Fine Art Ltd. And S.J. Phillips ltd., London, England.

Colville worked from his attic studio in Sackville, N.B., using as his inspiration the people and things of his immediate environment. His awards include a Service Medal of Order of Canada (1967); D. Litt., Trent University, 1967; honorary degree from Simon Fraser University (1973). An artist of great integrity and ability.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977