E.J. Hughes and Vancouver Island May 21, 2019 – Posted in: City – Tags: , ,

E.J. Hughes and Vancouver Island go hand in hand. Vancouver Island, on the West Coast of BC, is truly a beautiful place. And Canadian artist, E.J. Hughes, captured the beauty and charm of the island in his paintings.

“One of the main reasons I paint is because I think Nature’s so wonderful that I want to try to get my feeling down about that on canvas if possible. I feel that when I am doing my painting it is a form of worship.” — E. J. Hughes

E. J. Hughes

Edward John Hughes is one of great Canadian painters of the 20th century. That’s why his paintings hang in many of Canada’s most prestigious galleries. Even during his lifetime, some sold for more than a million dollars at auction! At a time when the art world seemed devoted to abstract art, Hughes painted scenes close to home… island coves, government wharfs, fishing and ferry boats. Based on scenes he encountered on Vancouver Island, his paintings allow you to see the beauty of his inspiration.

Hughes just wanted to dedicate his life to painting, and enjoyed the undisturbed tranquillity of his home on the island. His partnership with Max Stern, owner of Montreal’s Dominion Gallery, allowed him to do just that. One day in June of 1951, Stern sought out Hughes at his lakeside studio at Shawnigan Lake, just north of Victoria. The art dealer liked what he saw, and bought everything the artist had on hand. Thus, Hughes never had to sell any paintings himself, rarely gave an interview, and never attended an “opening.”

Born in 1913 in North Vancouver, Hughes grew up in Nanaimo, BC. In his teenage years, the family moved to Vancouver. In 1929, Hughes enrolled in the newly formed Vancouver School of Art, and soon became their leading student.

The Early Years

Although Hughes graduated in 1933, the Depression suggested that employment as an artist might not be promising. As a result, he stayed on as a graduate student. Together with classmates, Orville Fisher and Paul Goranson, Hughes made a living creating prints of Stanley Park. He also painted murals (notably at Nanaimo’s Malaspina Hotel), in exchange for room and board.

The War Years

Hughes joined the Canadian army in 1939, just days before war was declared, and became the first Canadian war artist. After basic training, he was posted first to the south of England, and later to Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands. During that period, he painted more than 1,600 works. The largest single collection of Hughes paintings is today housed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Life on Vancouver Island

After the war, Hughes returned to Vancouver Island, settling in Victoria. In 1947, he was awarded an Emily Carr Scholarship by artist, Lawren Harris. With this windfall, he spent the summer of 1948 exploring the island by bus. First making sketches at Sooke and Sidney, he then traveled north. Stops included Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Gabriola Island, Qualicum Beach and Courtenay. These locations provided him with subject matter for the rest of his career. Searching for more peace and quiet than was available in Victoria, in 1951 Hughes and wife, Fern, moved to Shawnigan Lake. There, Hughes purchased a cottage, and basically ‘stayed home’ for the rest of his life.

He painted in his studio six days a week. Every fourth summer, he would venture out, visiting picturesque locations nearby. Sitting in the front seat of his car, he would spend two days drawing a perfectly-detailed pencil study. Then, on the third day, he would annotate this sketch with cryptic colour notes. These studies became the basis for fully-realized oil paintings—sometimes decades later. Other than that, he rarely travelled. However, he did venture out occasionally. At the request of the Dominion Gallery, he toured across Canada, as well as in the interior of British Columbia.

In an interview with the Victoria Times Colonist, Hughes once remarked,
“I am deliberately painting what is picturesque. I go to the viewpoints where tourists go. I really believe if I can work hard at it and am really sincere about it, I can make that picture be art.”

He painted in his studio six days a week. And every fourth summer dedicated a few months to visiting picturesque locations nearby. Sitting in the front seat of his car, he spen two days drawing a perfectly-detailed pencil study of the subject. And on the third day he would annotate this sketch with cryptic colour notes. These studies became the basis for fully-realized oil paintings—sometimes decades later.

Perhaps better than anyone, E. J. Hughes shows us the artful beauty Vancouver Island. Like E.J Hughes, I too am inspired by the beauty of my surroundings, and attempt to bring his spirit to my work.

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