The highly respected Irish landscape artist, figure painter and Surrealist Colin Middleton was born in Belfast in 1910. While he was learning painting and drawing at Belfast College of Art, he was heavily influenced by the work of the Dutch Expressionist Vincent Van Gogh. A deep thinker as well as a modern artist, Middleton’s early work contained non-naturalistic use of colour as well as symbolist even surrealist imagery, leading him to regard himself as the only Surrealist working in Ireland in the 1930s. His paintings first appeared at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1938, although perhaps because of his modern approach to art he only gained associate membership in 1969 and full membership in 1970.
In 1943, the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery arranged a vast, comprehensive one-man exhibition for Middleton – at the time the largest solo show seen. The following year, he held his first solo exhibition in Dublin at the Grafton Gallery in 1944. After this, he devoted himself full-time to painting. More exhibitions followed in Dublin, London and Boston. Post-war images of the Nazi death-camps was a strong influence behind the emotional content of some of Middleton’s greatest paintings. Another response to the war, was to look inwards, and his work in the early 1940s shows a new affection for Belfast life in his genre-paintings of street scenes.
In 1953, Colin Middleton moved to Bangor where he designed numerous theatre sets. He also exhibited alongside Daniel O’Neill at the Tooth Galleries in London. However, the later 1950’s were uncertain years. He was no longer represented by Victor Waddignton Galleries, with whom he had succeeded in the post-war years, and he also moved to Portrush, County Antrim, on the north coast. It was here that he began a parallel career as an art teacher that was to endure for the next 20 years. These changes coincided with shifts in Middleton’s painting, as he renewed and strengthened his interest in abstract art in which the theoretical use of colour began to dominate.
A poet and musician, Colin Middleton also produced a vast range of other artwork such as murals, mosaics and posters. In 1969 he was awarded an MBE and appointed AHRA at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), with full membership in 1970. A major Colin Middleton retrospective was held in 1976, at the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. He continued to exhibit at the RHA until his death in 1983. His paintings, some of which command six figure sums at auction, are represented in a large number of public and private collections.
The auction record for a work by Colin Middleton was set in 2005, when his oil painting entitled Muriel was sold at James Adams, in Dublin, for €170,000.