Biography

Birth date: 1887
Birth place: United Kingdom: Scotland, Aberdeen
Death date: 1970
Death place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Final rank: Driver
Service number: 1228 - First World War, 1914-1918

Born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1887, George Colville moved to Australia in 1892. Around 1910 he began studying painting at the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall.

In 1914, Colville enlisted and served overseas for four years in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, and France and England. Although not an official war artist, he produced sketches and news sheets for fellow soldiers in Gallipoli; in France, he sketched the countryside.

After the First World War, Colville became a founding member of the Twenty Melbourne Painters. He also exhibited his workswith the Victorian Art School. Painting for many years, in oil and watercolour, he produced impressionistic bush and coastal scenes.

In 1941, Colville applied for a position on the home front as an official war artist, having already executed a number of pictures of munition workers, one of which had been exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria. Despite his strong application, he was not accepted.

It was not until 1949-1950 that Colville became an official war artist. The Australian War Memorial facilitated Colville's joining the Australian troops occupying Japan. His project was to provide a record of the life and activities of the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces, which had been largely an Australian exercise. By the time Colville arrived in Japan, however, the Occupational Forces were being reduced; by June 1950 the remaining troops were sent to fight in the Korean War.

It was agreed that the Memorial would select twenty of the works Colville produced during his stay in Japan. During his time there, Colville travelled with the troops, painting landscapes and scenes of Kure (near Hiroshima), Osaka, Tokyo and Yokohama in his inimitable impressionistic style of oil painting. Colville depicted barracks and buildings occupied by the troops, as well as hospitals, hostels and press rooms. Colville also depicted local sites such as Mount Fiji and the Temple at Osaka and the war's aftermath - the bomb sites of Hiroshima and the ANZAC war graves. Twenty-one of these works were donated to the Memorial upon Colville's return and remain part of the Memorial's collection.

After returning to Australia in 1950, Colville won the Albury Prize for oil painting in 1951. Colville continued to paint until his death in Melbourne in 1970 at the age of 83.

Rolls and Awards

First World War Embarkation Roll

  • Rank: Driver
  • Date of embarkation: 20 October 1914
  • Place of embarkation: Melbourne

Collection Items

Art

Valley at Hiro

View of the barracks at Hiro occupied by the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), serving with BCOF.

ART26934

Anzac Park, Kure, Australia Day 1950

The artist's impression of the Australia Day parade on Anzac Park, Kure, of BCOF troops. Mount Haigamine forms the background.

ART26935

Garrison church of St Peter, Kure

Garrison Church of St Peter, Kure, Japan, built by Australian engineers.

ART26936

Singapore dredge in Kure harbour

Kure Harbour, ships had been sunk or scuttled and were resting on the harbour bottom.

ART26937

Sgt's mess (old and new) BCOF Headquarters, also R.C church

Depicts a painting of the Sergeants mess (old and new) of the BCOF Headquarters with the Roman Catholic church in the background. It was not until 1949-1950 that Colville became an official war artist. The Australian War Memorial facilitated Colville's joining the Australian troops occupying Japan....

ART26938

Mine disposals unit at work

Depicts a mine disposal unit at work, preparing to lay a fuse to destroy mines washed up on a small beach in Japan. The officers are from a Bomb Disposal unit of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF).

ART26939

Osaka castle

Depicts a painting of a Japanese pagoda in Osaka, Japan. It was not until 1949-1950 that Colville became an official war artist. The Australian War Memorial facilitated Colville's joining the Australian troops occupying Japan. His project was to provide a record of the life and activities of the...

ART26940

Camp point, Kure, boat repairs

Depicts a painting of Kure Harbour, port of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. Behind the boat are the buildings of the docks and the hills which surround Kure.

ART26941

Commander in Chief's residence - Siamese legation, Tokyo

Depicts a painting of the Commander-in-Chief's residence - Siamese Legation, Tokyo.

ART26942

Provost unit searching a Japanese junk in Kure Harbour

Depicts a painting of Provost unit searching a Japanese Junk in Kure harbour, Japan.

ART26943

Docks area from Hillside, Kure

Depicts a painting of the dock area from Hillside, Kure Harbour, Japan.

ART26944

BCOF General hospital from Anzac Park

Depicts a painting of British Commonwealth Occupation Force General Hospital, from Anzac Park, Kure, Japan.

ART26945

Back door of Ebisu Hospital, Tokyo, Siser Gilchrist in doorway

Portrait of Sister Gilchrist standing in the doorway of the Ebisu Hospital, Tokyo.

ART26946

Bomb-damaged naval dock, Kure

Depicts a painting of the bomb damage at the Naval Dockyards, Kure.

ART26947

Interior of press room BCOF newspaper, Osaka

Depicts a painting of the interior press room of the British Commonwealth Occupational Force newspaper, Osaka. The following appear in the painting; (l-r) Mr Clegg, seated at table reading paper, Mabel Fukuda (translator) background, Mr R Osbiton (seated at table), Mr J Kewley, Sports Editor,...

ART26948

Kawana hotel, leave hostel

The Kawana Hotel at Izu, Japan, is a leave centre visited by members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) and allied civilians. It was not until 1949-1950 that Colville became an official war artist. The Australian War Memorial facilitated Colville's joining the Australian troops...

ART26949

Mt Fuji

Two Japanese boats with Mt Fuji in the distance.

ART26950

Australian war graves section at International War Graves Commission, Yokohama, Japan

Australian war graves section at the International War Graves Commission in Yokohama, Japan. 'The Yokohama war cemetery was constructed by the Australian War Graves group after the Second World War and contains the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who died in Japan as prisoners of war or with the...

ART26951

Kure from the hill

George Colville was sent to Japan to record the activities of the Australians that were participating in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). This was the first time that Australians were involved in the military occupation of a sovereign nation which it had defeated in war. This...

ART26953

Administrative buildings, Bricosat Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan 1950

This is the Administrative Buildings, Bricosat at the Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, painted when Colville was an official artist with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces.

ART26954

Mustangs on the tarmac, outside hangars at Iwakuni

Mustangs on the tarmac at Iwa kuni, Japan.

ART26952

Timeline

Date of birth 1887
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1914
Date of embarkation 1914-10-20
Date of death 1970