Canada • 1920−2013

Biography and information

Alex Colville (eng. David Alexander Colville, August 24, 1920, Toronto, Canada - July 16, 2013, Wolfville, Canada) - one of the most famous Canadian artists, who worked in the style of precisionism and modern realism. Almost all his life he lived in Canada, studied painting at Mount Allison University. For four years he served as a military artist in World War II, which left an imprint on his work. For 70 years, Colville was married to the poetess and artist Rode Wright, who became his main muse and inspiration.

Features of the artist Alex Colville: it is compared to an American artist Edward Hopper because of the similar feelings of anxiety that their paintings evoke. Colville often painted simple everyday scenes, his favorite characters were children and pets.

Famous paintings by Alex Colville: "Horse and train", "Child and Dog", "To Prince Edward Island", “The Cow and the Moon”, "Quiet".

Alex Colville had an amazing ability to scare the viewer with everyday things. Even the most peaceful scenes in his performance leave a feeling of tension and anxiety. The artist said: “I see how dangerous life is. I, in essence, have a gloomy view of the world and human affairs ... Anxiety is the norm of our life. ”. Such an attitude to the world rarely occurs out of nowhere. And Colville had a very good reason for this.

1942 for Colville turned out to be very intense. First, he earned a bachelor of fine arts from Mount Ellison University. Secondly, married his beloved Rode Wright. And, finally, joined the ranks of the Canadian army. Each of these three events played an important role in his future life and work.


During World War II, Colville served as a martial artist. He had not only to see death, injuries and destruction every day, but also to endure all these horrors on paper or canvas, passing every such story through himself. Later, his military work was criticized for "emotional sterility." The artist himself said that this is a consequence of a kind of defense mechanism, which is included in the brain at the sight of such terrible scenes. However, many researchers of creativity Colville believe that he could not recover for many years after what he saw during the war and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and this left an imprint on all his work.

Colville was particularly influenced by the scene he saw in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 - more than 10,000 depleted dead bodies in an open pit that did not have time to bury. The artist sat on the ground and began to make sketches. Picture "Body in the grave, Belsen" (1946), based on these sketches, is now in the Canadian War Museum. Colville managed to portray the killed surprisingly gently and carefully, they are either sleeping or floating in the air.

After the artist’s death, his daughter Ann Kitz discovered in one of the drawers in his studio a watercolor depicting the same terrible scene from Bergen-Belsen. Colville did not send her to the military museum, among other works, but decided to keep it with him. According to her daughter, the artist all his life had a habit of hiding his bad memories from those around him, but at the same time keeping them close at hand.

The idea of the relationship between man and weapon will occupy Colville's thoughts throughout his life ("Woman with a revolver"1987) The embodiment of this idea was one of his most famous paintings - “Quiet” (1967). This fascinating canvas was written in the California city of Santa Cruz on the Pacific coast. At first glance, the hero of the picture, watching the movement of the waves, is calm and peaceful. However, this impression is broken about the sense of threat that comes from a deadly object lying in dangerous proximity, but beyond the attention of man.


In 1946, after completing his military service, Colville began teaching at Mount Ellison University, which he graduated four years earlier. At the same time, the artist continues to write a lot and is gradually gaining popularity in Canada and beyond. In 1951, he held his first solo exhibition at home, and two years later - in New York. In the end, Colville decides to give up teaching, and since 1963 he has completely devoted himself to painting.

Paintings by Alex Colville are often compared to the paintings of the American “poet of empty spaces” by Edward Hopper. Both artists all their life wrote in a realistic manner, despite the popularity of avant-garde movements. In addition, their work combines the elusive sense of danger, tension, and even fear, permeating their paintings. And if Hopper's work at one time inspired Alfred Hitchcock, then Colville's canvases became an integral part of one of the most terrible films of the twentieth century - “Shine” by Stanley Kubrick. In different scenes of the film, you can see four paintings by the artist - “Horse and Train” (1954), “Moon and Cow” (1963), "Boy, Dog and St. John's River" (1958) and "Woman and Terrier" (1963). There are also references to Colville's work in Wes Anderson's Moonlight Kingdom and The Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men.

There are in the works of Colville and quite "light" pictures. Most often they depict family pets - dogs and cats (1, 2, 3, 4). Once, answering the question of why he so often writes animals, the artist called them "The angels who live among us". Unlike people, he said, animals are kindness in a pure form, they are deprived of deceit, malice, vengefulness and pride. They are caring and capable of such unselfish love that people can only dream of. Their example only emphasizes the complexity and gloom of human nature.

In the last years of the artist's life, his works become much softer and calmer. He often writes peaceful everyday scenes, devoid of the inherent apprehension of disaster (1, 2). Perhaps Colville was eventually able to rid himself of the ghosts of war that had plagued him for many years.


Rod Wright was a poetess, an artist and the life-long muse of Alex Colville. They married in 1942, shortly before he was sent to the army, and lived together for 70 years. The artist survived his beloved spouse only half a year.

Alex and Roda had four children. The eldest, Graham, was born during the war and first saw his father when he was just over a year old. He recalled: “I was very small and we were both shy. I was told that his first words addressed to me was the question “Do you want an olive?” My father did not look like fathers from pictures Norman Rockwell - we did not play hockey with him and did not do all these stereotypical things. But we often went on a boat together. At these moments we spoke little, but at the same time we were very close. ".

Colville managed surprisingly to maintain a balance between work and personal life. His daughter Anne said that every morning the artist began with a charge, a bath, and breakfast, after which he went to his studio and began writing. He worked best from eight in the morning until lunchtime. He never stayed up until night and never worked on Sundays.

In 1973, the Colville family moved to Roda Wolfville, where Alex and Rhoda lived until the end of their days. The artist wrote his wife throughout his career. Rhoda served as a model for his most recent picture, The Woman and the Watch (2010). In addition, the spouse inspired the artist to write a variety of canvases depicting nudes. On some of them, he himself appears next to her ("Fridge", 1977). The popularity of these works, however, gave Rode a lot of trouble, because they were strongly condemned by the church community Wolfville. The artist was concerned with the puritanical moods of the inhabitants of the city, and he continued to write with pleasure and inspiration his beloved Rod. When she was gone, Colville once told Graham that "Hid the memory of her death in a secret place".

Author: Evgenia Sidelnikova