Previous News - The Canterbury Auction Galleries to stage studio sale of the works of Colin Colahan (1897-1987)


A Master of Tonal Realism.

In October last year at The Canterbury Auction Galleries, a small group of paintings consigned by the Kent widow of Australian artist and sculptor Colin Colahan (1897-1987) prompted two collectors to travel specially from their Melbourne homes to compete for the prizes on offer. It was an expensive trip as they sought to repatriate works by their country’s forgotten artist.

One paid £14,000 – a world auction record – for an oil titled “Ballet of Wind and Rain (Holland ’45)”, the artist’s personal copy of this most famous work, which depicted Second World War fighter pilots walking away from their planes on a windswept runway.

That sale tested the water. Now, encouraged by the outstanding results, Monique Colahan has instructed the auctioneer to disperse the remainder of her husband’s studio collection, which has been in her safe keeping since his death in 1987. None has been offered on the open market before. The Colin Colahan Studio Sale will be held as part of the auctioneer’s Two Day Sale on Tuesday and Wednesday April 16-17.

The 105 lots of oils, watercolours, charcoal and ink sketches and pencil drawings will be offered in a separate sale catalogue . Estimates start at £50 and rise to the high hundreds, making the sale a unique opportunity to purchase works from this talented artist at price levels to suit all pockets.

The Portraits

“Colin was always very kind and careful with models. He made the whole thing fun, always making sure that they were comfortable and had breaks from posing. It is very tiring and Colin understood that very well.” – Monique Colahan

In addition to portraits of Monique, the collection includes ballet dancers; male and female sitters; Lily Ernst (Lady Anthony Hornby) and self portraits.

“Colin’s genius was to be able to depict different aspects of my personality, even if that persona hadn’t appeared yet” – Jenny Truman, model

The Landscapes

“Arriving at La Mortola, that paradise on earth, Colin, a slight man with a shock of white hair swept back greeted my father.” – Jenny Truman, model

In addition to views of the Italian estate at La Mortola, landscapes include views of Venice, Elba, Chartres, Province and other continental scenes, together with a number of English landscapes and coastal scenes of such places as Devon, Lyme Regis and Shoreham.

The Sketches

“Colin loved showing others art and getting involved in discussions about it” – Monique Colahan The sketches are the most accessible of the 105 lots. They include numerous studies of portraits, nudes, landscapes and drawings made on the artist’s travels, notably in India

“The Indian trip…was in early 1955 (Jan - March), he [Colahan] went with Ursula, his second wife, they travelled to (then) Ceylon and India, he sketched but didn't paint, they stayed part of the time with friends, and it was an extended holiday. They wrote letters back to their two daughters, Rachel and Mimi, who were children at the time, chatting about the trip and about Indian culture and mythology.” Garry Kinnane, biographer

Garry KinnaNe describes Colahan as a painter of “outstanding ability and reputation”. Colin Cuthbert Orr Colahan (1897-1987) was born at Woodend, Victoria, New South Wales, the fifth of six children of John Joseph Aloysius Colahan (1836-1918), an Irish-born, retired surgeon major general in the British Army, and his wife Eliza Newton, née Orr (1861-1899), who was born in Australia.

He attended Xavier College, Melbourne, and contributed humorous cartoons to the Xaverian and Bulletin magazines. In 1916, he enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne but he left the following year to study painting and drawing at the National Gallery Schools. He soon moved on to Max Meldrum’s school, adopting his teacher’s practice of tonal realism, and editing Max Meldrum, His Art and Views (c.1919), to promote the latter’s theories. Colahan’s work was first shown publicly as part of an exhibition by `Meldrumites’ at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1919.

He married Violet Winifred Lester in 1921 and the couple had a son, David (d.1945), before being divorced in 1931. From 1921-27, the couple lived and travelled in England, France and Spain, Colahan studying the classical masters and developing his technique and showing his work in London and Paris.

He returned to Melbourne, where his reputation grew and his work matured. His subjects included landscapes, streetscapes, portraits and nude studies, and his exhibitions generated favourable reviews and good sales.

Quick, skilful and full of Irish wit and charm, physically he was small and attractive to women. One of these was Mireille Wilkinson, the French wife of an Australian economist, Launcelot Wilkinson, by whom Colahan had two sons.

In 1931, Colahan was shaken by the brutal murder of another of his lovers, the model Mary (`Mollie’) Dean, and further distressed by the inquest and publicity that followed.

In 1935 Colahan suddenly departed for England, where he built a reputation as a portrait painter. His more notable subjects included George Bernard Shaw, Charmian Clift and Sir Malcolm Sargent. In 1939, he married 23-year-old Ursula Nora Winifred Marx. They had two daughters and lived in the White House, Tite Street, Chelsea, formerly owned by James McNeill Whistler.

The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, appointed Colahan an official war artist in 1942 and directed him to cover the activities of his country’s armed services, especially the Royal Australian Air Force, in Britain and Europe. This commission (terminated in 1945) resulted in some of his best paintings, such as `Ballet of Wind and Rain’ and `Waterloo Station’; these two and eighty-eight more of his works are held by the AWM. He became the first president of the Australian Artists’ Association, London, in 1952. (It was the artist’s copy of ‘Ballet of Wind and Rain’ that The Canterbury Auction Galleries sold for £14,000).

Moving to Italy in 1958, Colahan built La Mortola, a house at Mortola Superiore, near Ventimiglia. He was divorced from Ursula in 1967 and later that year in Nice, he married his widow, Monique Eliza Bornoff, (née Hazelden), a 52-year-old divorcee. Around this time he turned to sculpture, producing over thirty works, including the `Sirena’ fountain for the Italian town of Bordighera, and a head of Victor Smorgon, bought by the National Gallery of Victoria.

Colahan died on 6 June 1987 at Ventimiglia and was buried locally. His wife and four of his five children survived him. His work is represented in the state galleries of Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

The Colin Colahan Studio Collection will be on public view alongside more than 1,000 lots of antiques, fine art and collectors’ items on Saturday April 13 from 10am-4pm; Sunday April 14, 12 noon-4pm; Monday April 15, 10am-7pm and on the mornings of the sales from 8.30. For further information, please contact the auctioneer on 01227 763337

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