Alex Colville

The Artist

“I wanted to live out of the art game.” —Alex Colville

David Alexander Colville was born in Toronto on August 24, 1920. In 1929, his family moved to Amherst, Nova Scotia; Colville would live in the Maritimes for the rest of his life. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University in 1942, he married his sweetheart, Rhoda Wright, and enlisted in the Canadian Army. After World War II ended, he taught drawing and painting at Mount Allison University from 1946 until 1963, when he retired to paint full time.

While much of the art world turned to abstract art, Colville remained true to his own style: realism. He steadily rose to the top of art world through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, exhibiting across Canada, Europe and Asia. His paintings and prints inspired constant debate and controversy. Some critics hailed him as “the most important realist painter of the Western world” and “the best Canadian artist of his time.” Others, resentful of his commercial success, dismissed his work as “regional” and “mediocre.” Still, the accolades were plentiful: honorary degrees, prizes, a Governor General’s Award and an appointment to the Order of Canada.

In 1973, he and Rhoda moved to her childhood home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Colville died on July 16, 2013, just seven months after Rhoda’s death.

Explore Alex Colville’s life and work with this timeline.


Alex Colville, age 11, near Tidnish, Nova Scotia, where his family had a summer cottage. © The Colville Estate, 2014.


Alex Colville, age 18, with his parents, David and Florence. © The Colville Estate, 2014.


Alex Colville, WWII artist, in his studio in London, England, 1944. © The Colville Estate, 2014.


Alex Colville worked as an official World War II artist from 1944 until 1946. Photo: Canadian Army, courtesy of the Colville Estate.


A Colville family portrait, 1951. From left to right: John, Graham, Alex, Rhoda, Ann and Charles. © The Colville Estate, 2014.


Alex Colville in 1965, printing the serigraph Ravens at the Dump.


Alex Colville, 1977. Photo: Guido Mangold, Ottobrunn, Germany.


Alex and Rhoda Colville, with Min outsdie their Wolville home, 1988, Photo: Guido Mangold, Ottobrunn, Germany.


Alex Colville sketching outside of Wolfville, 1984. © The Colville Estate.


Alex Colville in his studio, 2000. Photo: Ruth Kaplan.

Alex Colville in conversation with Barbara Frum

The artist discusses his life and work in this interview recorded at the AGO in 1983. Via CBC’s The National.