Nova Scotia

Alex Colville remembered as great painter, father

Canadians and art lovers are mourning the death of a great painter in Alex Colville, but his children are feeling the loss of a wonderful father.

Alex Colville's daughter


7 years agoVideo
An emotional Anne Kitz talks about her understanding, wonderful father 7:04
Colville had been a pre-eminent figure on the Canadian art scene since the Second World War, when he was a war artist and chronicled the Canadian assault on Juno Beach in France. (CBC)

Canadians and art lovers are mourning the death of a great painter in Alex Colville, but his children are feeling the loss of a wonderful father.

Colville, who gained recognition with his hyper-realistic paintings that often depicted the dark side of everyday life in Canada, died peacefully at his Wolfville, N.S., home on Tuesday. He was 92.

And while artistic leaders commented on his work and Canadians took to social media to express their thoughts, his daughter, Anne Kitz, found talking about her father so soon to be difficult.

"He was a wonderful father. He was very, obviously very loving, as I suppose most fathers are but he was really understanding, non-judgmental … and supportive. It's kind of hard for me to talk about him today, but he was a great father," she said.

He was also humble despite his success.

"He would never have talked about his success because I don't think that was something that — although he appreciated it, it was not something that interested him in any way," said Kitz.

"If he would get letters from young artists, aspiring artists, he was tremendously kind and took a lot of time to respond to these. Almost always he would say to them, ‘To thine own self be true. Be sure you do what you want to do. Don't paint things because someone else says ...' That speaks volumes of the kind of character he had."

His oldest son, Graham Colville, said his father was suffering from a heart condition.

"We remember the days before all the pomp and circumstance. We treasure our long lives with and him," he said.

Colville had been a leading figure on Canada's art scene since his work as a war artist during the Second World War. After the war he accepted a teaching job at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., and held various exhibitions throughout Canada and the U.S.

In 1963 he devoted himself to painting full time. He and his wife Rhoda moved in 1972 to a house in Wolfville, N.S., which had been her childhood home. He maintained a studio there until his death.

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Kitz said her father dedicated his life to his work to the point where, after just a few days away from home, he would be itching to get back to his studio.

"He was totally absorbed in [painting] all of his life and it was a great thing for him," she said.

"My father had a wonderful life and I will miss him more than I can say, but for him I feel no unhappiness at all. He had a great life. He had an extraordinary marriage. He had a good death — all of those things are great and I have no regrets about anything."

Others remember great painter

Robert Campbell, president and vice chancellor at Mount Allison University, said Colville's work set a standard of excellence at the school.

"The uniqueness of his work — I mean this hyper-realism of his work that looks so painstaking, it's so evocative, it's so mysterious in so many ways. I personally find it very unsettling. There's a lot of anxiety seems to me in those paintings, and in that work," he said.

Campbell said Colville inspired artists across the country and around the world.

"I think in the modern age, where science demystifies and makes everything a little bit ordinary, Colville touches the kind of magic or spiritual side of us as well. And I think in a technological society, the impact of Colville will be around forever," he said.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia issued a statement following news of the artist's death.

"Canada has lost one of its greatest artists and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, a dear friend. Colville's over 70-year career established his pre-eminence among contemporary Canadian painters — one who visually chronicled life around him from his work as an overseas war artist to one working in Wolfville, Nova Scotia," it read.

"His subjects, often his family, including his pets and himself, came to represent archetypes. Through his carefully constructed paintings and prints, his works have come to typify Atlantic Realism. He leaves a rich legacy."

Newly-appointed Minister of Canadian Heritage Shelly Glover offered her condolences to Colville's family.

"Thanks to his captivating yet serene creations, we will remember this exceptionally distinguished artist for his unparalleled contribution to the arts," she said in a statement.

Colville's son John, as well as his wife and muse Rhoda died in 2012. He leaves behind two sons, Graham and Charles and his daughter Anne.

His funeral service will be July 24 at Manning Memorial Chapel at Acadia University in Wolfville.