LOT 001

1913 - 2007

Ladysmith Harbour
watercolour on paper, circa 1955
signed and on verso titled Lady Smith Harbour [sic], inscribed with the Dominion Gallery Inventory #C 3442 on the Dominion Gallery label and stamped Dominion Gallery
8 5/8 x 10 5/8 in, 21.9 x 27 cm

Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000 CAD

Sold for: $34,250

Preview at:

Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Montreal, 1969
By descent to the present Private Collection, Toronto

Jacques Barbeau, The E.J. Hughes Album: The Paintings, Volume 1, 1932 - 1991, 2011, reproduced page 24, noted as a 25 x 32 inch oil [sic], and the related 1970 canvas entitled View from the Old Coal Dump, Ladysmith, BC reproduced page 56
Robert Amos, E.J. Hughes Paints Vancouver Island, 2018, page 130, the related 1970 canvas entitled View from the Old Coal Dump, Ladysmith, BC, collection of the University of Victoria, reproduced page 131

In 1948, E.J. Hughes was exploring locations on eastern Vancouver Island north of his home in Victoria, funded by an Emily Carr scholarship. During this time he executed pencil sketches of logging activities around the harbour at Ladysmith, a small town south of Nanaimo. This trip would yield oil and pencil sketches that would supply him with subject matter for several years of painting, during which he produced works such as the extraordinary 1948 painting Qualicum Beach (collection of Hart House, University of Toronto) and the 1949 oil Logs, Ladysmith Harbour (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario). One of these pencil sketches was a drawing of this scene overlaid with a grid structure, which was the basis for this circa 1955 watercolour.

In 1970, Hughes painted a large-scale oil of this image titled View from the Old Coal Dump, Ladysmith, BC. Hughes’s dealer, Max Stern of the Dominion Gallery in Montreal, was so delighted with the 1970 painting that he sent a cheque for $1,000 – which was a record price at the time for a payment to Hughes from the Dominion Gallery. Stern wrote in his letter to Hughes: “You will note – that this represents an increase on the customary price, and it reflects the increasing demand and resulting higher prices for your paintings.” This oil was soon acquired by the University of Victoria. The title refers to the history of Ladysmith, which was originally established in 1900 as a port for James Dunsmuir’s coal mine at Extension, 16 kilometres away. When the mine closed in 1932, Ladysmith became a depot for the logging industry – indicated by the log booms in the harbour.

Ladysmith Harbour is a striking watercolour from Hughes’s sought-after period of the 1950s. The colouration is rich – orange logs are contrasted with the intense blue of the sea, and in a lighter key, the delicate treatment of the sky with tones of blue and peach at the horizon is exquisite. The black ground on the shore shows the result of coal mining - coal dust, which in the past was as deep as 20 metres in places, and was present on Ladysmith’s waterfront when Hughes was painting these images. The artist’s careful attention to detail is evident in the inclusion of small buoys and buildings and the seagulls gathered on the wooden lane dividers for the logs. His compositional expertise is displayed in the oval in the foreground with grass, rocks and logs, which seems to echo the hills in the distance. Hughes includes charming nautical elements - a tug pulled up on the far shore, another boat in the foreground, and a small work boat manoeuvring in the log booms. The lumbermen moving about on the logs add to the atmosphere and vitality of the scene. In contrast to the activities in the foreground, the far shore with its forested hills is natural – typical of this area of Vancouver Island, in which nature and industry existed side by side.

Ladysmith Harbour is also a consummate example of Hughes’s refined skill with watercolour – his handling of paint, from washes to dense pigmentation, is masterful, especially considering the scale of the work. Hughes captured the specifics of the working life of this town while suggesting universal themes – the necessity and dignity of labour and the beauty of nature.

Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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