LOT 001

1913 - 2007

Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC
watercolour on paper
signed and dated 2005 and on verso signed, titled and dated
18 x 24 in, 45.7 x 61 cm

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000 CAD

Sold for: $169,250

Preview at:

Acquired directly from the Artist, 2005
Barbeau Owen Foundation Collection, Vancouver

Doris Shadbolt, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1967, the related 1948 canvas titled Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC reproduced, unpaginated
Ian M. Thom, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2002, the related graphite drawing titled Steamers reproduced page 47 and on the back cover (detail), the related canvas reproduced page 83 and on the front cover (detail)
Jacques Barbeau, A Journey with E.J. Hughes: One Collector’s Odyssey, 2005, the related graphite drawing reproduced page 2 and listed page 165
Jacques Barbeau, The E.J. Hughes Album, Volume 1, The Paintings, 1932 – 1991, 2011, the related canvas reproduced page 10
Jacques Barbeau, E.J. Hughes Through the Decades, Volume 2, The Paper Works, 1931 - 1986, 2014, the related graphite drawing reproduced page 31 and listed page 84
Robert Amos, The E.J. Hughes Book of Boats, 2020, the related canvas reproduced page 66

Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC (1948) was the sixth in a series of striking post-war oil paintings that E.J. Hughes created in the days before he came under contract to the Dominion Gallery. It was one of the first paintings gallerist Max Stern purchased from Hughes in 1951 and was then sold in 1952 to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. It was subsequently sold by Heffel for a record price on May 17, 2011. As the auction catalogue stated: “Hughes’s great achievement is that it is impossible to think of this region without thinking of his images. Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC (1948) is quintessentially British Columbia and shows Hughes at his most skilled.”[1] That oil painting is now in the collection of Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, donated by the Peter and Joanne Brown Foundation.

Heffel is now proud to offer the detailed tonal study that immediately preceded the painting (lot 2 in this sale), and also this interpretation in watercolour of the same subject, one of the last paintings created during the artist’s long life.

The image has three components. The waterfront setting is based on something Hughes saw on a day trip to Sidney in the spring of 1948. To this he added the three-funneled Princess Victoria on the left, and on the right the Motor Princess, a boat that went between Sidney and Anacortes Island in Washington state. The Motor Princess is also seen in Hughes’s Car Ferry at Sidney (1952, collection of the National Gallery of Canada).

In the graphite cartoon for the subject, titled Steamers (1947), the artist left open the door on the lower deck of the ferry in anticipation of its arrival in Sidney, and two boys are playing in the water near the shoreline. In the canvas and the subsequent watercolour, he has closed the door and added people on the decks of both ships. The boys have disappeared, replaced by a diagonal log.

Hughes spoke of the image on October 8, 1989, to his assistant Pat Salmon: “Looking at the painting today, I see how influenced I was by the French Post-Impressionists. It is particularly notable in the little boat. Originally I had a little boy wading in the water beside the boat, but I painted him out because he made the composition seem too crowded. The main interest is in the boat on the right, and the boy made the bottom part too busy.”[2]

After 1991, Hughes no longer had the stamina to stand at his easel for hours, and so he devoted himself to painting in watercolour, which he could do sitting down. Taking up favourite themes developed during his long career, he brought his drawings to life with many layers of transparent colour, reliving his finest moments on a more intimate scale. In this late watercolour of Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC (2005), the dark days of his post-war experience are a distant memory and, while the colours are rich, the tonality is lighter.

These two versions of Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC—the preliminary drawing and the later reinterpretation—mark the beginning and the conclusion of the career of a great Canadian artist.

We thank Robert Amos, artist and writer from Victoria, BC, for contributing the above essay. Amos is the official biographer of Hughes and has so far published five books on his work. Building on the archives of Hughes’s friend Pat Salmon, Amos is at work on a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.

1. Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art (Heffel Fine Art Auction House, May 17, 2011), catalogue essay for lot 71, Coastal Boats Near Sidney, BC (1948).

2. E.J. Hughes to Pat Salmon, October 8, 1989, quoted in her unpublished manuscript.

For the biography on Jacques Barbeau and Margaret Owen Barbeau in PDF format please click here.

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.