Edward John (E.J.) Hughes
BCSFA CGP OC RCA
1913 - 2007
After a Movie, on Kiska in 1943
graphite on card
signed and dated 1945 and on verso titled
19 3/4 x 26 5/8 in 50.2 x 67.6 cm
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000
Sold for: $52,650
Preview at: Heffel Vancouver
Collection of Michel Moreault, former Director of the Dominion Gallery, Montreal, and his family
Heather Robertson, A Terrible Beauty, The Art of Canada at War, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery and National Museum of Man, 1977, a similar subject, the 1945 canvas Ten Minutes Rest – Kiska, in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, reproduced page 186
Ian M. Thom, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2002, a similar subject, the 1945 canvas Canteen Queue, Kiska, in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, reproduced page 62
E.J. Hughes graduated in 1933 from the Vancouver School of Art and, like other artists of the time, encountered the financial difficulties of the Depression years. He had been a cadet in school, so in 1939 applied to the army and lobbied to be considered as a war artist. In 1940 he received his breakout opportunity. Although the official program did not start until 1942, Hughes was called to Ottawa to be a war artist. He was first assigned to Camp Petawawa in Ontario, then in 1942 was posted to Britain. Working as a war artist gave Hughes financial stability, a steady supply of materials and the time to advance his artistic development. During these years, Hughes developed his approach of close observation of his subject and began to execute highly worked preparatory drawings for his paintings that he called cartoons. He had the opportunity to travel to New York and London, where he saw important works of art that influenced his vision. In New York he saw the paintings of French artist Henri Rousseau, whose compelling, primitive (yet sophisticated) works, greatly admired by modernists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, had an effect on Hughes that was particularly noticeable through the 1940s and into the 1950s. He also saw the work of Mexican muralists, whose social conscience and volumetric approach to the figure had been of interest to him beginning in the mid- to late 1930s when he was working on four major mural projects in British Columbia.
In 1943 Hughes was made a lieutenant and posted back to the West Coast to Kiska in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, where he remained until being posted to Ottawa in 1944. Occupied by the Japanese in 1942, Kiska was liberated in 1943 by Canadian and American troops. It was a quiet post, dominated by the routine of army life, and Hughes could devote himself completely to his art. At Kiska, Hughes’s subjects included the soldiers on their various manoeuvres and at leisure, military ships in the harbour and views of the encampment. Amongst its collection of Hughes works, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has a considerable number of his drawings, watercolours and paintings of these Kiska subjects.
This large and finely finished cartoon is an extraordinary composition. It has a pronounced sense of volume in the carved snowdrifts, transport tractors and men, whose repeated forms set up a rhythm both in the still forms of the machines and the movement of the group of men. Although most of the group faces away, seeing the animated faces of the men in the foreground adds a sense of their individuality, connecting us to them. In contrast to this leisure activity, the lineup of transport tractors awaits, a reminder of the purpose of the camp and the potentiality of action. There is a strength in Hughes’s simplicity of form; since he has excluded many extraneous details, the eye is immediately drawn to those that remain, such as the patches and insignias on the men’s uniforms and the flashlights in their hands. Hughes’s use of graphite shows great technical accomplishment. With its fine textures, and adept handling of tonalities of light and dark, this is a highly polished work. Since most of Hughes’s war work is in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, this fascinating depiction of the life of soldiers in this isolated outpost during World War II is a rare cartoon drawing to emerge on the market.
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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