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.