Colin Middleton was born in Belfast in 1910, becoming one of the great landscape and figure painters of the twentieth century. His father’s work as a damask designer and seascape painter greatly influenced Middleton, along with childhood holidays to London and Belgium. During one visit to London in 1928 he saw a Vincent Van Gogh exhibition which was a major artistic revelation for him. He once said he was the only Surrealist painter working in Northern Ireland during the 1930s.
Whilst attending the Belfast College of Art, Middleton received the Royal Dublin Society’s Taylor Scholarship in 1932. His work was hung in the Royal Hibernian Academy for the first time in 1938. Regarding an exhibition of paintings at the Waddington Galleries, the Dublin Magazine valued his work for ‘its superb technical finish, its surrealist clarity, its imaginative and semi-abstract invention.’ His style was influenced by European modernism and varied throughout his career, often adopting a surrealist vision to document the reality he witnessed before him.
In 1950, he was included in the New Irish Painters exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, with a tour followed to London. Middleton went on to teach art, first at Belfast College of Art then at Coleraine Technical School, and Friends’ School, Lisburn. During this period, he continued to exhibit at group shows in Belfast, Dublin, and in London at the Royal Academy. In 1969, the year Middleton received an MBE, he was also appointed an associate of the RHA, and awarded full membership in 1970. A major retrospective of his work was organised in 1976 by the two arts councils consisting of nearly 300 works, held at the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin.