"Fishboats, Rivers Inlet"
E.J. Hughes, "Fishboats, Rivers Inlet," 1946 , oil on canvas, 42" x 50".
E. J. HUGHES [Ed. note: this article appeared two years before Hughes' death]
By Rod Chapman
E. J. Hughes has long been regarded as one of British Columbia’s most significant painters, one of a handful of Canadian artists whose work now commands high six-figure prices.
Hughes, 91, lives in the city of Duncan, BC, on Vancouver Island. Between 1932 and 1939 he acquired a solid background in technique at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design). Later, while serving as a war artist, Hughes developed the technique of close observation of nature, followed by a highly worked preparatory drawing, which he called a cartoon, and finally a completed canvas. Hughes’ 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 relatively large-scale canvases.
David Heffel, a partner in Heffel Gallery in Vancouver and Toronto, notes that Fishboats, Rivers Inlet was Hughes’ first painting after returning home from the war in 1946. “It is considered a pivotal painting in Hughes’ career,” he said. “It marks the first time that he applied the style developed in his war work to the landscape of British Columbia. The painting marked Hughes’ debut as a major figure in the Canadian art world and established him as a landscape painter of the first rank.”
First sold in 1951 for a little over $100, the painting was purchased last November in Toronto at an auction hosted by Heffel Gallery for a remarkable $920,000 – significantly more than pre-auction estimates of $300,000 to $400,000.
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