Lot Sale Results

Alexander Colville

Alexander Colville

Alexander Colville
Post-War & Contemporary Art Live auction

Lot # 025

Alexander Colville
PC CC 1920 - 2013 Canadian

Chaplain
acrylic polymer emulsion on board
on verso signed, titled, dated 1991 and inscribed "acrylic" and inscribed on a label with the artist's notes about the paint material
26 3/4 x 36 1/4 in  67.9 x 92.1cm

Provenance:
Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto
Heffel Gallery Limited, Vancouver, 2001
Private Collection, Vancouver

Literature:
David Burnett, Alex Colville, Drabinsky Gallery, 1991, reproduced page 13, listed page 23
Philip Fry, Embarkation: The Genesis of a Painting, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1994, reproduced page 25
Philip Fry, Alex Colville: Paintings, Prints and Processes, 1983 - 1994, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1995, reproduced page 83 and preliminary drawings reproduced pages 82 and 84

Exhibited:
Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto, Alex Colville, October 19 - November 13, 1991
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Alex Colville: Paintings, Prints and Processes, 1983 - 1994, September 30, 1994 - January 15, 1995, catalogue #18

Alex Colville is one of the most acclaimed artists in Canada. During his long life and since his death at age 92 in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have attended his exhibitions. Many more have seen reproductions of his paintings, especially on book covers. The Art Gallery of Ontario’s large Colville retrospective in 2014 to 2015 welcomed over 166,000 visitors, the largest attendance for a Canadian artist recorded at this institution. The catalogue was a best-seller in the art category.

Why this abiding popularity? “Why?” was one of Colville’s favourite questions too. His deceptively simple and always legible paintings ask existential questions: Why are we here? Who is this person? What is our relationship with animals and thus with ourselves? Chaplain is a masterly example of Colville’s commitment to understanding what matters in life. “I have a friend who is the chaplain at Acadia University,” he reported. “This is a portrait of him which attempts to show what he is like - in so far as this is possible.” In line with his typically taciturn titles, however, Colville’s comment gives away little about the chaplain. He is not named; few personal details are suggested by the painter’s matter-of-fact acknowledgment of his subject. Meticulous and specific, Chaplain is at the same time not conventionally biographical. The satisfying result is that we as viewers can explore the questions that Colville plots for us. His paintings are supremely controlled to allow us this freedom.

Chaplain is a testament to Colville’s signature practice of careful mathematical measurement, in this case charted through extensive preparatory drawings, discussed by Philip Fry in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts exhibition catalogue cited. Colour is minimal, and the patterns traced by the floor tiles, wall trim, and especially the elaborate screen formed by the spindles of the foreground railing, which dominates the view of this church or chapel interior, are painstakingly rendered and interrelated with purpose. A perfect balance is struck between these visually absorbing ornamental details and our sightline to the supposed subject of the painting. The chaplain is in all ways composed; he is as still as the architecture that frames him, hands gently folded, face calm. He is dressed in black robes, in stark tonal contrast to the white and grey of his surroundings. Significantly, we cannot fully see his eyes because he wears glasses, and Colville has made sure that the spindles partially block our view.

We might say that the chaplain is expressionless, which has the virtue, again, of allowing us to speculate on what he may be thinking, who he “is.” Is he deep in thought, preparing to speak? Is he resting after speaking? Is he confined by the space we see, as Fry claims, or does it instead afford him some privacy from our unbidden gaze? We do not know, which brings us back to the wisdom of Colville’s description of this work as being about what the man is like “in so far as this is possible.” As the generic title suggests, then, this is not “the” chaplain with this or that characteristic, it is “a” chaplain, in the sense of a role, a position in a community. A tour de force of design, Colville’s Chaplain is a memorable meditation by an ultimately secular visual philosopher.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Alex Colville: The Observer Observed, for contributing the above essay.

Estimate: $500,000 ~ $700,000 CAD

Sold For: $541,250.01 CAD (including buyer's premium)


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