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 Edward John (E.J.) Hughes  (1913 - 2007)

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Lived/Active: British Columbia / Canada      Known for: painting, printmaking, murals, commercial art

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Ad Code: 1
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Edward John Hughes (AKA: E.J.Hughes) was a painter, printmaker, muralist and commercial artist who was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  As an infant he moved with his family to Naniamo  (1914 – 1923), then North Vancouver and Vancouver (1923 – 39). After World War II he lived in Victoria, B.C. (1946 - 51),  Shawnigan Lake (1951-72), Cobble Hill (1972-75), Duncan (1975), Ladysmith (1975 - 77) and finally Duncan again, (1) where he lived for the rest of his life and died.
His mediums are oil, acrylic, watercolour (2), linocut, graphite, dry point and tempera.  His subjects are landscape, harbours, coastal scenes, genre, city scenes and military (during the war).  Almost all depict human activity such as logging, farming, fishing; and most are of places in British Columbia.  His style has been described as High Realism (3).  Hughes work is identified by  simplification, flattened planes, distortion, bright  colours, movement, water features (sea or lake) and balanced composition.  His attention to detail is legendary, all of his oil paintings have a preliminary pencil drawing with notes for colour, then a watercolour version before he embarks on the final canvas (4). Quote: “It takes ten percent ability, fifty percent industry and forty percent enthusiasm and interest to be a good artist." - E.J. Hughes. Some of his stated influences are Henri Rousseau and Diego Rivera.
In 1929 he attended the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (5) studying under Charles Scott (see AskART), Frederick Varley (see AskART) and Jock MacDonald (see AskART).  He graduated in 1933  and did post graduate work there in 1934 and 1935.  In 1934 he also partnered with Paul Goranson (see AskART) and Orville Fisher (1911- 99) in a commercial art firm, which lasted until Hughes joined the army in 1939.
His travels include postings in Ottawa, England, and Kiska, Alaska during World War II; a trip across Canada in 1956 and a trip through the interior of British Columbia in 1967; all of which resulted in drawings and paintings.  In 1984 he visited Montreal, New York City and Washington, D.C., and in 1987 London and Paris.
Unusual, for a very famous and financially successful artist, Hughes was a recluse. This was facilitated by an uncommon business arrangement with Montreal art dealer Dr. Max Stern of Dominion Galleries.  In 1951 Stern contracted to buy all of Hughes future paintings, an arrangement, which lasted until 2000 (17 years after Stern’s death), allowing Hughes to concentrate on creating art with no financial concerns about promoting it or selling it. (6)
He was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters from 1948 until 1953, when, he resigned over his disagreement with their inclusion of abstract art in exhibitions.  In 1968 he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. As alluded to earlier he was in the Canadian Army from 1939 to 1946 attaining the rank of Captain.  From 1942 until 1945 he was also an Official War Artist.  Estimates of the number of his wartime works range from 1000 to 1500.
His work has been in exhibitions continuously throughout his career.  These include with Royal Canadian Academy (1950, 68 and 70), and with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1953-64).  In 1955 the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts also had the two man show “Hughes/ Shadbolt” with Jack Shadbolt (see AskART).  In 1958 he was included in the Vancouver Art Gallery show “100 Years of B.C. Art”.  In 1967 he was included in the National Gallery of Canada Exhibition “Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art”.  His first group exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery was in 1935. It had major solo exhibitions of his work in 1967 and 2003 (travelling).  He has also had solo exhibitions at the Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, B.C. (1983); the Naniamo Art Gallery (1993) and the Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, B.C. (1994) (travelling).  In 1939 a mural of his was used in the B.C. display at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco.
His works are in many private, corporate and public collections.  Some of the public collections are the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Glenbow Museum (Calgary), the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa) and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.  The Vancouver Art Gallery has the most significant collection in public hands, in some cases, it has the preliminary pencil drawing and watercolour with their completed painting.  A  9’ X 17’ mural painted by Hughes in 1938 can be seen at the Port of Naniamo Convention Centre.
His many awards and honours include the Order of Canada (2001), the Order of British Columbia (2005); honorary doctorates from the University of Victoria (1995), the Emily Carr Institute (1997), and from Malaspina University-College (Naniamo).  In 1947 on Lawren Harris’s (see AskART) recommendation, he was given the first Emily Carr Award.  He has also been awarded four Canada Council Grants (58, 63, 67, 70).  And in 1992, to commemorate 125 years of Canadian Confederation, an image of one of his works was used on a postage stamp.
Hughes also had the distinction of seeing his works get some of the highest prices at auction by a living Canadian Artist.  In 2004 his 1946 painting Fishboats, Rivers Inlet sold for $920,000.00. (7)
As a very prominent artist his work has been discussed in numerous magazine and newspaper articles dating back to 1939 (The Vancouver Province, March 24).  He is listed in A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; in The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar; in The Canadian Encyclopedia (1985), Hurtig Publishers; in Canadian Who’s Who 1996 Volume XXX1, edited by Elizabeth Lumley; in the 1999 and 2006 versions of E. Benezit, published by Grund; in the Encyclopedia of British Columbia (2000); in Jaques Cattell Press, Who's Who in American Art 15th Edition; in Who’s Who in American Art 2001-2002, 24th Edition (2001), published by Marquis; and in Peter Falk's Who Was Who in American Art”.

His work is also illustrated and discussed in Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield; in Contemporary Canadian Art (1983), by David Burnett and Marilyn Schiff; in Visions – Contemporary Art in Canada (1983), various authors and editors; in The History of Painting in Canada - Toward A Peoples Art (1974) by Barry Lord; in Four Decades (1972) by Paul Duval; in “Painting in Canada: A History” (1966) by J. Russell Harper; in Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art (1967), by R.H.Hubbard and J.R. Ostiguay; in The Development of Canadian Art (1964), by R.H.Hubbard; in Vancouver Art and Artists 1931 – 1983 (1983), by Luke Rombout and various contributors; in High Realism in Canada (1974), by Paul Duval, in From Desolation to Splendour – Changing Perceptions of the British Columbia Landscape (1977), by Maria Tippett and Douglas Cole; in Canadian Art (1950), by Graham Campbell McInnes; in “Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880-1980” (1980), by Rebecca Sisler; in Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945 (2000), by Dean F. Oliver and Laura Brandon; in Art BC: Masterworks from British Columbia (2000), by Ian M. Thom; in Canadian Art: From its Beginnings to 2000 (2000), by Anne Newlands; in  Canadian Art in the Twentieth Century (1999), by Joan Murray; in 100 years of B.C.Art (1958) by R.M.Hume; in Contemporary Canadian Artists (1997), edited by Robert Lang and others;  in Canadian Drawings and Prints (1952), by Paul Duval; and in Canadian Paintings, Prints and Drawings (2007), by Anne Newlands.
A profusely illustrated  chapter is devoted to his work in the book Murals from a Great Canadian Train (1986) by Ian Thom, which examines a 1954 group project commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  There are also the biographies E.J.Hughes (2002), by Ian Thom and A Journey with E.J.Hughes (2005), by Jacques Barbeau.
In 1961 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation included him in the documentary "The Seven Lively Arts".
(1) Source E.J.Hughes by Ian Thom.  Authors note: Victoria, Shawnigan Lake, Cobble Hill, Duncan and Ladysmith are all in the southern part of Vancouver Island along a 50 mile stretch of its east coast, all but Victoria are in an area referred to as the Cowichan Valley.  E.J.Hughes quote: "I have painted in the Cowichan Valley for fifty years and it is the most beautiful place on earth."
(2) At the age of 78 (1991) he turned exclusively to watercolours.
(3) According to Paul Duval in his book High Realism in Canada, its essential qualities are: “objectivity of vision, sharpness of definition, precision of technique, accuracy of detail and excellence of craftsmanship.”
(4) This method had other benefits. As he only completed about 12 canvases a year, and all paintings were promised under contact to his dealer Dominion galleries, he had an extra 12 watercolours to sell to Dominion and the pencil sketches, which were not included in the contract, he could sell himself.
(5) It became the Vancouver School of Art in 1937 and in 1995 the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.
(6) Paul Duval comments in Four Decades (pg 165) that the  works created before 1951 “…which were done under great financial pressure, are perhaps the most evocative… “.
(7) As of 2008 that ranks number 36 in all time highest prices for a Canadian painting at auction.  Interestingly, the 35 works above it were done by only 10 artists.  There are only 21 artists represented on the top 100 list of highest prices paid at auction.  Source Canadian Art Sales Index - 2009 Edition, Westbridge Publications Ltd.
Prepared and contributed by M.D.Silverbrooke

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