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 )

Sold for $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

Though born in Toronto, Alex Colville considered himself a Maritimer having moved to Nova Scotia at a young age. He studied art at Mount Allison University, N.B. and upon graduating in 1942, Colville joined the Canadian Army and served in Europe as a member of the War Art program. He taught art and art history at Mount Allison University from 1946 to 1963 before devoting himself full-time to his painting and printmaking. Colville was chosen to design a set of coins for Canada's Centennial in 1967 and, that year, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1982 he was raised to Companion, the highest level of the Order. He was awarded eight honourary degrees and from 1981 to 1991 and served as Chancellor of Acadia University.