Birth date: 12 February 1897
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Woodend
Death date: 6 June 1987
Death place: United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Colin Colahan was born in 1897 at Woodend, Victoria. He began to study art in 1917 at the National Gallery School under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin, but soon left to study under Max Meldrum, with whom he developed his distinctive style, based on Meldrum's theories of "tonal values".

In 1935 Colahan left Australia for Europe. He never returned. He worked in England for much of his career, and during the late 1930s he built a reputation in London as an excellent portrait painter. In 1941 he was recommended for the official war art scheme.

During the Second World War Colahan was commissioned in 1942 and again in 1944. He began his work in Britain, depicting the activities of the Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Forestry Units, and completing several portraits of service personnel. His ability to work quickly in the field allowed him to work directly in oil, instead of having to do sketches for paintings to be developed later in the studio. After the surrender of Germany, Colahan went to Europe to capture the changing conditions in the liberated areas. He traveled through Belgium, France and Germany, painting the celebrations of VE day, fleeing refugees, and the destruction he saw in Berlin.

Colahan remained in Britain after the Second World War, but later moved to Italy, where he continued to work as a painter and sculptor.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items


The collaborator and the communicant

A street scene with the towers of Antwerp cathedral in the background. In the lower right of the painting a collaborator with his hands held up is being escorted by a man with a gun. The street is populated with a crowd of onlookers, including a nun and a child dressed in a white confirmation...


Night fighters

Four airmen wearing dark glasses to preserve their night vision relax as they prepare for their mission. One airman lounges on an arm chair taking some liquid food and another on a table, three are wearing life jackets as they appear to be engaging in a joke or conversation.


Sunderlands in the hangar

Royal Australian Air Force took up the post of coastal command where they were based at Plymouth in the U.K. In this painting, the No 10 Squadron, part of Short Sutherland flying boat, are supported by ground crew who are working on a Sunderland in the aircraft hanger overlooking Plymouth Harbour.


Destruction in Chancery Lane, London

The ruins of Kings college in the distance are in evidence as the artist depicts them from his viewpoint in Chancery Lane, London.


Bound for the Middle East

A convoy of trucks is travelling down a street. The trucks have been painted with desert coloured camouflage pattern. Passersby include a woman and a young boy, while on the other side of the street is a soldier in uniform. An obelisk is in the background and the street is lined with buildings.


Paris liberated

On a busy street corner outside a restaurant in Paris, the city's liberation on 25 August 1944 has stimulated a bout of activity in the streets. The Gendarmes are giving directions to foreign troops as Parisian cyclists including priests, women and children and are again freely occupying the...


Wellington Bombers taxiing round the perimeter track

Five Wellington bombers are taxiing along a runway at dusk. They are preparing to take off on a night bombing raid over Germany from England.


Bush Mill in Scotland

A figure stands in front of a saw mill preparing a log in preparation for rail transport. The 3rd Coy, Australian Forestry Unit based in Canonbie, Dumfrieshire, Scotland is situated in close proximity to the Canonbie Railway Station. The rail network was significant in the location of the mill...


Flying Officer Wynton Thorpe

Flying Officer Wynton Powell Thorpe, depicted here aged 22 served with the Royal Australian Air Force, Coastal Command, No 10 Squadron, he was the RAAF Liaison with United States 8th Air Force. On 13 November 1942, Thorpe suffered lacerations to his right leg and foot during air operations which...


Scotch Sunday, church parade of 2nd Coy of Foresters

A group of figures, participating in a church parade, march down a Scottish street with buildings to one side and trees to the other. A view of the countryside is evident above the parade. The men depicted are members of the 2nd Coy Australian Forestry Unit based near the village of Thornhill,...


Rain and bloody misery

Eight members of the Australia Forestry Unit based in Dumfriesshire, Scotland dressed in large hats and coats move away from a military vehicle in the foreground, they trace a path up a fenced hill side in the beating wind and rain.


London leave

A rainy day in London during the Second World War. A bus looms large in the wetness; a grouping of three women wearing high heels stand at the left and two men in Airforce uniform can be seen walking along the street; the white beam of car headlights reflect in the watery streets breaking the dull...


RAAF raid on York

A busy street scene with three RAAF servicemen walking along Kings Square away from the York Minster Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe.


M.T. Section

Mechanic working below a vehicle with another man standing to the side.


The Camp Cartoonist (Sergeant Barnett)

Depicts a portrait of Sergeant Arthur Barnett, RAAF, who was the camp cartoonist.


Flight Sergeant Eric Barber

Flight Sergeant Eric Barber (5300) 456 Squadron, a member of the fighter command, who was awarded the British Empire Medal. This was published in the London Gazette on 1 January 1944 and the award was presented by His Majesty, The King at Buckingham Palace on 17 October 1944.


Australian Forresters, Scotland

A group of four members of the Australian forestry unit manually saw the felled wood into smaller pieces for transport. Two men saw the wood while one holds the log in place and the other is lining up the next log along the skids.


Lieutenant Austin Rule

Portrait depicting Lieutenant Austin Rule of the 2nd Company Australian Forestry Unit, engineers unit. The 2nd Company based in Thornhill, Dryfenholme, Lockerbie were operating the wood mill to fell and machine timber for use in structural operations such as bridge building, roads, shelter...


Taking the blimp to the convoy, Plymouth

In Plymouth harbor, a blimp is towed by a boat while a RAAF Sunderland Flying Boat is located to the right of the Plymouth Harbour.


Sapper Jack Garrig

Sapper Jack Garrig was an engineer who worked in the 2nd Coy Australian Forestry Unit based at Thornhill in Dumfriesshire, Scotland.


Alert in Piccadilly

A night scene in Piccadilly, London. Several dark figures move quickly, while several search lights crisscross the sky illuminating a silhouette of the Nelson's column, Trafalgar Square, London.


The Baron, Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Lord

Depicts a head and shoulders portrait of Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Southwell Forrest Lord, RAAF during the Second World War, a member Coastal Command, No 10 Squadron.


Flight Sergeant Vincent Ratcliffe

A portrait of Flight Sergeant Vincent Peter Ratcliffe, a pilot with the 456 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force. Vincent Peter Ratcliffe joined the RAAF in January 1941 and was posted after pilot training to the 456 Squadron, a unit of Fighter Command. Among other duties the squadron undertook...


Barrage balloons over Plymouth

A cluster of barrage ballons hover over the city of Plymouth.


Station Adjutant

This portrait of John Edwin Pike, Adjutant, Royal Australian Air Force, Fighter Command, No 456 Squadron.


Maintenance [Corporal Henry (Blue) Rogers]

Corporal Henry 'Blue' Rogers (or Rodgers), of the Engineers Unit of the Australian Forestry Unit 1st Company of officers based at Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.


Burning off in Scotland

Several men toil in the foreground alongside some tall trees. A large fire burns in the back ground in efforts to burn off the remains of the de-forestation area and preparing the ground for replanting. The men are members of one of the three Australian Forestry Units operating in Scotland,...


Astro Dome (Flight Lieutenant Jack Jewel)

Flight Lieutenant Jack Jewel of the Royal Australian Air Force, Coastal Command, No 10 Squadron was mentioned in despatches and further distinguished himself on 3 November 1942 having been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross by His Majesty, The King for skill demonstrated on numerous operational...


Holland, Winter, 1944

A dutch rural scene. A truck is viewed from front-on driving across a dyke. A windmill is evident in the background.


The Covenanter (Sapper Alan MacDonald)

Sapper Allan MacDonald, 1st Coy Australian Forestry Unit, engineers Units, 1st Company was based in Dryfholm, Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire in proximity to the 2nd and 3rd Coy who were operating wood mills nearby in Thornhill and Canonbie.


Squadron Leader Richard Osborn

Royal Australian Air Force, Fighter Command, No 450 Squadron; Squadron Leader Richard Osburn, DFC, No 450 Sqdn RAAF


The roads of Germany

A vast sea of people, trucks and wooden wagons travel on a German road and cross over a bridge.


The homeless, Normandy, 1944

Independent transport in the form of a Ford utility gave Colahan unique access to the changes brought on by the rapid military advance in Europe. During his second deployment as an official war artist, he observed at first hand a time of monumental change. The desolation of families is sensitively...


Flight Sergeant Gordon Gatenby

Royal Australian Air Force, Fighter Command, No 456 Squadron; Flight Sergeant Gordon Francis Gatenby, No 456 Sqdn RAAF



A naked man stands with his arms raised in front of several tents. Another man, dressed in a uniform, is lifting a bucket to wash down the naked man.


In the cellars of Cologne

Allied soldiers in a cellar, in Cologne, pulling bottles wine off racks and drinking the contents. Several bottles are strewn at their feet.


Squadron Leader Charles Bailey

Squadron Leader Charles William Bailey who served with the RAAF in the 6 Squadron and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross on 10 May 1945 by the Governor General of Australia for Gallantry in flying operations in the South West Pacific region.


Collaborators in the lions' cage at Antwerp

A guard stands at the entrance to the cage in which two women are seated. On 8 September 1944, Antwerp was liberated from German occupation by British troops. The lions cage in the zoological gardens was used to house 20 Female Belgian collaborators who were accused of aiding the German in the...


Sergeant Noel Bass

Portrait of Sergeant Noel Gordon Bass, RAAF, the portrait was started on 27 August 1942 and was never completed because Sergeant Bass never returned that night from an air raid over Germany.


January 1945

A snow-filled landscape populated by people huddled together and trucks moving in a line up a slope. A village is evident in the background.


Stand-by pilot

Pilot asleep on a chair while on standby.


Victory parade

Colahan depicts troops from the 2nd Australian Imperial Force, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Airforce marching past the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, as part of victory celebrations in 1946. St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey can be seen in the background. Artists Colin...


Under new management

A former German aircraft is being painted with Royal Air Force symbols. A German swastika is still evident on the tail of the aircraft.


Adjutant Major White

Portrait of Adjutant Major White, Adjutant to Squadrons 452, 458, 460.


Liberty Trucks

In the village square in Antwerp the American liberty trucks congregate in the early morning light. The liberty trucks had a top speed of 24 km/h and were primarily used to transport people and in this instance possibly to transport Allied forces who had been liberated from Breedonk prison in...


The Endless Columns

On a tree lined road, a column of trucks recede into the horizon.


Night convoy

Servicemen reading a map by torchlight alongside a convoy of stationary trucks. Two searchlight beams cut across the night sky.


Scottish Idyll

An Australian in uniform talks to a local woman as they lean on a wall overlooking a river, bridge and town centre of Dumfries, Scotland.


"A" party moves at dawn

In the distance, a Sunderland aircraft is preparing to land as air Force trucks are being loaded at an air base, possibly Plymouth, where Australian RAAF squadrons were based.


Breendonk prison

Vaulted arches support open prison gates, with two armed men sitting on a bench at the end of the corridor. Built in 1906 along the ancient highway from Brussels to Antwerp, Fort Breendonk first resisted the German army in the First World War. During the Second World War, Breendonk was used as a...


Padre (Frederick Walter James Cottrell)

Portrait of Padre Squadron Leader, Frederick Walter James Cottrell, Methodist chaplain, 460 Squadron.


The towns of Germany

A German street scene with civilians walking amongst some ruins and smoke.


The bridges of Germany

A man and woman push a cart loaded with possessions across a narrow bridge. Behind, another horse drawn cart crosses the bridge.



A court martial taking place in an RAF/RAAF court room in London. Ten figures are shown.


Doc (Flight Lieutenant Shortridge)

Royal Australian Air Force, Coastal Command, No 10 Squadron; Flight Lieutenant Shortleigh, Medical No 10 Sqdn


VE night, Piccadilly Circus

A jubilant scene, as men and women dance in the street on VE night which heralded the end of the Second World War. English and American flags are flown from the windows of the buildings that line Piccadilly Circus, London, England.


Tea scroungers

Beside a truck servicemen huddle around a fire holding mugs of tea.


Front line medical unit

The Royal Army Medical Corps administer first aid to Australian AIF and a RAAF airman near the front line. An ambulance is located in trees at top of hill, toward which prisoners of war advance with both hands up in the air.


Boer War - Last war - this war (Sapper Harold Knudsen)

Sapper Harold Ferdinand Knudsen served with the 2nd Australian Imperial Force, engineer units when this portrait was made he was 35 years of age.


Pilot Officer Thomas Condon, radio observer

Portrait of Pilot Officer Thomas Condon, radio observer, seen in right profile, in service dress cap, and wearing RAAF battle dress uniform, smoking a pipe.


Plymouth Sound

A view across Plymouth Sound where two RAAF Sunderland Flying Boats of No.10 Squadron may be seen at anchor, where the squadron was based.


Martha and Mary

Two Nissen huts with laundry hanging on a clothesline at a RAAF base in the UK. In front one airman rests in a chair while another stands to his right holding a piece of washing in his hands.


Sapper Francis Deering

Sapper Francis Thomas Deering, VX13429, 2nd Coy AFU, engineers units, 2nd Company Australian Forestry Unit. When this portrait was painted by Colahan, Sapper Deering was based at Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.



Kaiser Wilhelm II Memorial Church, Kurfurstendamm, Berlin was damaged in air raids on the night of the 23rd November 1943. The church was in the neo-romanesque style and had been built under the Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II in memory of his Grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm I to the architectural design of...


Sapper Jack White

Sapper Jack White of 2nd Company Australian Forestry Unit, Engineers Unit which was based at the Thornhill mill site in Dumfriesshire, Scotland.


Skids on the Highlands

Australian Forestry Units working in Dumfriesshire in Scotland move felled and cut wood which are then loaded onto trucks and transported to the saw mill for further processing. The use of skids or parallel wooden panels to assist in the leaverage of logs on the steep mountain side in the Scottish...


East meets west (First British convoy en route to Berlin)

In one of his first paintings of early convoys on route to Berlin, official war artist Colin Colahan depicts the evacuation of German refugees and troops from the capital and surrounding villages as allied troops enter. The landscape is dramatically divided by two columns passing each other along...


RAAF Sunderlands in Plymouth Harbour

The Royal Australian Airforce provided a coastal command base in Plymouth Harbour for the Short Sunderland flying boats. This is a view from the RAAF base of the harbour with a Sunderland in the water.



Royal Australian Air Force, Coastal Command, No 10 Squadron; Short Sunderland flying boat letter 'Z'


County Squadron Leader S Richards

Royal Australian Air Force, Fighter Command, No 456 Squadron; Squadron Leader S P Richards, DFC, in charge B Flight No 456 Sqdn RAAF


Launching the Sunderland

Air Force, Coastal Command ground crew launch a Short Sunderland flying boat by holding onto the tail of the aircraft as it goes into the Plymouth harbour.


The monster

An Avro Lancaster Bomber on the ground looming large at dusk. Figures of the bomber crew seen below.


Wing Commander Gynes Ramsbottom-Isherwood

Wing-Commander Henry Neville Gynes Ramsbottom-Isherwood, DFC, Air Force Cross, RAF. Born in Blenheim, New Zealand, Ramsbottom-Isherwood went to Britain to join the Royal Air Force in the 1930s. He led the 151 fighter wing of the Royal Air Force fighting Germans alongside Russian pilots during the...


Ballet of wind and rain

'Ballet of wind and rain' was painted in Holland late in the Second World War, in February 1945, when Colahan travelled into recently liberated regions of war-torn Europe. In this painting the artist gives the impression of the fleeting moment when four airmen, returning from night operations move...


Ground staff (Flight Sergeant Oswald 'Ossie' Ferguson)

Portrait of Flight Sergeant Oswald 'Ossie' Ferguson, ground staff, No 10 Squadron, RAAF. The young man from Goulburn smiles confidently and self-assuredly at the viewer, his tinsnips nonchalantly held in his hand as he leans against a cabinet. A fitter, he worked on Sunderland aircraft in the...


Inside the hangar

Maintenance by members of the Royal Australian Air Force, Coastal Command on the Short Sunderland flying boats stationed in Plymouth Harbour.


Workshop decor (Flight Sergeant B. Love)

Flight Sergeant Bruce Robertson Love (service no. 3537) of the Royal Australian Air Force, Coastal Command, No 10 Squadron is pictured here in his blue overalls standing in front of posters and photographs that were presumably pinned up in the workshop. Flight Sergeant Bruce Love worked as a Fitter...


Twilight of the Wehrmacht

Two feeble looking German soldiers walk with a women through the streets of a ruined German village. Wehrmacht became a general term for the German Armed forces throughout the Second World War.


The souvenir hunter

An Australian soldier chasing a live shell that is about to hit the ground. The image is titled 'The Souvenir Hunter', and there is also a caption below the image that states: 'I haven't got a nose-cap off one of those big shells.' This drawing was possibly made for publication in the 'Bulletin'...


Waterloo Station

Waterloo station, London, under black-out. Figures moving through the railway station; a large four sided railway clock hangs in the middle of the main conourse and at the upper left in the painting. A famous place for a rendezvous, beneath the clock, a couple embrace. In the lower right, a couple,...


Milk for the mess

Australian servicemen carrying an urn of milk from a dairy, while civilians watch on. The artist lived in one of the farm houses while undertaking commission as an official war artist during the Second World War.


Wing Commander J. Alexander C.O., No.10 Squadron

This is a portrait of Air Commodore James Alexander OBE (b.3 April 1907), service number O319 (1343, 44). It was painted by official war artist, Colin Colahan, when Alexander held the position of Commanding Officer of the No.10 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.


Lieutenant Edmond Russell

This portrait of Lieutenant Edmond Henry Cecil Russell (VX11769), 2nd Australian Forestry Unit, Royal Australia Engineers, was painted when the artist visited the AFU at Thornhill, Dumfriesshire. Prior to his enlistment in the Australian Army, Edmond Russell was employed as a civilian saw-miller.










London, England. C. 1943-09. War portraits are included in the RAAF War Collection in Britain. 403334 Flying Officer E. H. Griffiths of Narrandera, NSW, is another of Colin Colahan's RAAF subjects and is being viewed here by 410851 Pilot Officer G. T. Riddoch of Ballarat, Vic, at the display at...



London, England. C. 1943-09. Portraits by well-known artists are being collected for the RAAF War Collection in Britain. 402933 Acting Squadron Leader W. Brill DFC of Matong, NSW, has been painted by Colin Colahan, an artist from Melbourne, Vic, at present working in London. Mr Colahan has covered...



Captain C. Colahan, Official War Artist, painting 403373 Sergeant V. P. Ratcliffe, a pilot of No. 456 Squadron RAAF at RAF Station Valley.



Date of birth 1897-02-12
Date of death 1987-06-06