Lot # 047
Post-War & Contemporary Art Live auction

Edward John (E.J.) Hughes
BCSFA CGP OC RCA 1913 - 2007 Canadian

Fishboats, Rivers Inlet
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1946 and on verso signed, titled, dated, inscribed "E.J. Hughes, Victoria, B.C." / "Med. Coat 17 Oct. 46" / "Porter Toronto" and with the Dominion Gallery inventory #D1344 and stamped Dominion Gallery, Montreal
42 x 50 in  106.7 x 127cm

Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Lever Brothers, New York (acquired for Mr. and Mrs. Keith Porter)
Private Collection, Toronto
Sold sale of Fine Canadian Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 25, 2004, lot 141
Property of an Important Estate, British Columbia

Doris Shadbolt, "Ed Hughes - Painter of the West Coast," Canadian Art Magazine, Spring 1953, reproduced page 102
Doris Shadbolt, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1967, reproduced plate 5
Ian M. Thom, E.J. Hughes, 2002, reproduced page 72
Greg Joyce, “Living Legend Painter E.J. Hughes Has Masterpiece on Auction Block,” National Post online, November 3, 2004
“Living Legend Painter E.J. Hughes Has Masterpiece on Auction Block,” The Brantford Expositor, November 4, 2004
“At 91, His Art Is Soaring: Bidding for Painting by E.J. Hughes Could Go Past $500,000,” Vancouver Province, November 5, 2004

Vancouver Art Gallery, E.J. Hughes, October 5 – 29, 1967, traveling to York University, Toronto, November 13 – December 8, 1967
Vancouver Art Gallery, E.J. Hughes, January 30 – June 8, 2003, traveling to the McMichael Gallery, Kleinburg, November 29, 2003 – February 15, 2004

Literature continued:

Kevin Griffin, “Luck Led E.J. Hughes to Fame,” The Vancouver Sun, November 20, 2004

James Adams, “$920,000 Buys Hughes Painting,” The Globe and Mail, November 26, 2004

“E.J. Hughes Painting Sells for $800,000,” The Vancouver Sun, November 26, 2004

“Hughes ‘Fishboats’ Sets Record at Auction,” The Toronto Star, November 26, 2004

“Hughes Painting Fetches $920,000: Oil Work Sells for Triple Its Asking Price,” The Windsor Star, November 27, 2004

Yvonne Zacharius, “E.J. Hughes ‘Amazed’ After His Painting Sells for $920,000,” The Vancouver Sun, November 27, 2004

“Big Bids for B.C. Art Auction: Hughes’ Fish Boats gets $920,000; $370,000 for Carr," Vancouver Province, November 28, 2004

E.J. Hughes has long been regarded as one of British Columbia’s most significant painters. His highly personal vision of the B.C. landscape has helped to form our perceptions of the province. His work, which occasionally has a somewhat naive appearance, is the result of careful consideration of his subjects and a deliberate approach to image making. Central to Hughes’s formation as a painter were two episodes in his life. The first, his training at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design), gave him a solid background in technique and allowed him the means to begin his professional career as a muralist and printmaker. This period, 1932 to 1939, was, however, a difficult one financially, and it was the advent of the Second World War that allowed Hughes to complete his artistic development.

While serving as a war artist, Hughes developed his technique of close observation of nature, followed by a highly worked preparatory drawing, which he called a cartoon, and finally a completed canvas. During his service, he was able, for the first time, to devote himself completely to being an artist and was supplied with all the materials he needed. He was also able to travel to New York and London and see significant works of art that influenced his approach to painting. In New York he saw the work of Mexican painters and Henri Rousseau, the self-taught French artist greatly admired by modernists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Hughes’s service as a war artist also saw his work shift in style, from a fine, smooth handling of paint to a deliberately rougher, more visceral handling of pigment. This gave his work a greater immediacy and force that the highly polished earlier paintings lack. The war work also allowed Hughes to paint canvases of a relatively large scale.

Fishboats, Rivers Inlet was the first painting that Hughes did after returning home after the war. It is a pivotal painting in Hughes’s career because it marks the first time he is able to apply the style developed in his war work to the landscape of British Columbia and to employ the technical approach that allowed his most important war canvases to develop. At the end of his service in 1946, Hughes was allowed to bring some unused canvas with him back to British Columbia, which enabled him to paint larger-scale canvases such as Fishboats, Rivers Inlet. Eager to begin his career as a painter of the British Columbia landscape, Hughes turned his attention to a small group of highly realistic drawings that he had done while working with his colleague Paul Goranson as a commercial fisherman in the summer of 1938.

A related drawing of Rivers Inlet from this time period, in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, is a superb distillation of the landscape, but Hughes radically alters this image to create the canvas. Curator Ian Thom writes of the painting:

“It is a startlingly original vision of the British Columbia coast, and, in marked contrast to the coastal landscapes of Frederick Varley and W.P. Weston. Hughes’s view is almost sculptural, reminiscent of the Nova Scotia paintings of Marsden Hartley and, inevitably of the Mexican Muralists. The landscape is almost bursting with activity and yet is strangely still. The waves, the insistent pattern of the evergreens and the solid clouds, all have a clarity that does not exist in the difficult atmospheric conditions in which fishermen labour. The shifts of light and dark across the surface have the quality of a mosaic, and the stumps and logs in the foreground suggest that we as spectators have no place to stand…There is an artificiality and yet an absolute rightness to this work. We know that we cannot actually see the world with this degree of visual certainty – look, for example, at the serried rows of boats and the perfect silhouette of the fisherman in his pilothouse in the centre of the painting – but we are nevertheless convinced.”

Fishboats, Rivers Inlet marked Hughes’s debut as a major figure in British Columbia’s art world and established him as a landscape painter of the first rank in Canadian art.

Estimate: $900,000 ~ $1,200,000 CAD  
Sold for: $2,041,250 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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