Artwork by David Alexander Colville,  Recording Zero Line, Near Nijmegen

Alex Colville
Recording Zero Line, Near Nijmegen

signed lower left; titled and inscribed “Lt. D.A. Colville, 4 Dec 44 (painted 6,8,12 Dec 44), ‘E’ Troop, 43 BTY, 12 FD REGT RCA, 3 CDN INF DIV, 15” x 22”, For Reference Only” on the reverse
15 x 22 ins ( 38.1 x 55.9 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$30,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $34,500.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Private Collection, New Brunswick
Tom Smart, Alex Colville: Return, Vancouver, 2003, pages 24 and 28
In May of 1942, Alex Colville’s studies at Mount Allison were cut short when he enlisted in the Canadian Armoured Corps, hoping to be a war artist. He was then transferred to the infantry division, and rose in rank to second lieutenant. During this two year period Colville did not draw or paint at all, until the spring of 1944 when he was abruptly assigned by the Canadian government as an official war artist. Equipped with pens and a set of watercolours, he set out to paint the events of war.

Colville’s first watercolours portrayed scenes of military life, absent of any violent battle scenes, rather he painted machinery and soldiers at work. He compared this experience to that of a police reporter “doing factual reporting, physical, sordid rather than philosophical or abstract.” The artist’s approach transformed to a more sombre one when Colville arrived at Nijmegen, Holland in late 1944. There he encountered the devastating aftermath of multiple bombings and the harsh destruction of bridges. Colville began to incorporate images of soldiers at battle, such as “Recording Zero Line, Near Nijmegen”, which depicts soldiers by an artillery in a field. Smart writes that Colville could no longer sanitize or omit “the spectres of death and dying from his images, [when] on the far side of the Nijmegen bridge, dead paratroopers sprawl in fields and other corpses lie piled in pits.” Colville’s experience of the war and its numbing effect profoundly impacted the artist’s work, preparing him for the existentialist philosophy and the new approach to painting that he would explore in the 1950s.

A card on the reverse reads: “Lt. D. A. Colville Recording Zero Line - Near Nijmegen 4 Dec 44 (Painted 6, 8, 12 Dec 44)”, a partial listing of the inscriptions found on the reverse of the watercolour.

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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