LOT 001

1913 - 2007

"Gunfire" at Practice
ink and watercolour on paper
signed and titled and on verso dated November 1940 and inscribed "Sketch for painting from memory; Stanley Park Battery (Van. B.C.) in action" and "F"
9 x 11 1/8 in, 22.9 x 28.3 cm

Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000 CAD

Sold for: $46,250

Preview at:

Private Collection, Toronto

Star Weekly (Toronto), April 7, 1942, the related 1941 canvas Coastal Defence Gun and Crew reproduced
Doris Shadbolt, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1967, the related 1941 canvas noted, unpaginated
Jane Young, E.J. Hughes, 1931 - 1982: A Retrospective Exhibition, Surrey Art Gallery, 1983, the related 1941 canvas noted page 37, reproduced page 41, listed page 92
Ian Thom, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2002, the related 1941 canvas noted page 57, reproduced page 58
Robert Amos, E.J. Hughes Paints British Columbia, 2019, the related 1941 canvas reproduced page 41
Robert Amos, E.J. Hughes: Canadian War Artist, 2022, the related 1941 canvas noted page 33, reproduced as frontispiece and page 34

Vancouver Art Gallery, E.J. Hughes: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 5 - 29, 1967, traveling to York University, Toronto, November 13 - December 8, 1967, four sketches for the related 1941 canvas Coastal Defence Gun and Crew, catalogue #32
Surrey Art Gallery, E.J. Hughes, 1931 - 1982: A Retrospective Exhibition, November 18 - December 11, 1983, traveling in 1984 – 1985 to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Edmonton Art Gallery; Glenbow Museum, Calgary; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, the related 1941 canvas, catalogue #2
Vancouver Art Gallery, E.J. Hughes, January 30 - June 8, 2003, traveling in 2003 – 2004 to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the related 1941 canvas

There was no work for an artist in Vancouver in the 1930s. E.J. Hughes and his artist friends Paul Goranson and Orville Fisher tried painting murals—first gratis, then for room and board. Finally they landed a paying job, for the BC Pavilion at San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 – 1940, producing 12 murals involving crowds of figures in specific settings. The paintings were terrific, but this was no way to make a living.

At the time Hughes hoped to get married and needed a job to support a family. Reflecting on his years as a cadet with the Seaforth Highlanders, he signed on as a “gunner” with the Royal Canadian Artillery on September 1, 1939. Perhaps he did not know that war was imminent. While in basic training at Fort Macaulay, near Esquimalt, BC, Hughes wrote letters to the National Gallery of Canada and to Army Headquarters in Ottawa, proposing himself as a war artist. By December 1939, he was stationed in Vancouver and continued to write to Ottawa:

From months working as a gunner, and district gunner (at present) in the forts here and on Van. Island, I have conceived wonderful subjects for pictures. Besides being of wartime interest the forts here are in such beautiful settings. I wonder if eventually an artist may be employed in war records on this coast as there was on the east coast during the last war?… This is just an idea that came to my mind as I rest here in the bunkhouse, directly under the great Lions Gate Bridge, ready to go out to duty on the 12-pounders when the alarm sounds.[1]

The dramatic drawing of Ferguson Point in Stanley Park offered in this sale is dated November 1940, just at the time when Hughes received word from Ottawa that his proposal was being considered. Perhaps the drawing was created before Hughes was called to duty as a “service artist” on November 10, 1940, and thus it did not become part of the Canadian War Records art collection.

Hughes arrived in Ottawa in January 1941. His commanding officer, Colonel A. Fortescue Duguid, was a historian rather than an artist and set the first three service artists (Will Ogilvie, Fisher and Hughes) to work on highly detailed studies in preparation for a documentary style of picture-making. Hughes took out this drawing, which he had prepared “from memory” in Vancouver, and developed it in a wider format.

He engaged clerks from the Historical Section of the Canadian Army, then based at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, and they posed according to his drawing. Beginning once more, he redrew everything: hand studies, details of trouser creases, individual shoes. These drawings are all now in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, some of the more than 540 artworks Hughes created while a war artist.

It is hard to comprehend how much information Hughes conveys in this small drawing. The uniforms of the men in the foreground are detailed right down to their metal artillery cap badges. In the distance he drew a tableau of nine men in coordinated action in a space not much bigger than a business card.

Hughes’s production as an official Canadian war artist is preserved in the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art in the Canadian War Museum. The oil painting that resulted from the aforementioned studies, Coastal Defence Gun and Crew, is one of the most admired of all the Hughes paintings. That this important early study has remained in a private collection until now is truly remarkable.

We thank Robert Amos, artist and writer from Victoria, BC, for contributing the above essay. Amos is the official biographer of Hughes and has so far published four books on his work. Building on the archives of Hughes’s friend Pat Salmon, Amos is at work on a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.

1. E.J. Hughes to H.O. McCurry, director of the National Gallery of Canada, December 26, 1939, Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada.

Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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