LOT 211

1913 - 2007

Early May at Qualicum Beach
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1966 and on verso signed, titled, dated December 1966, inscribed with the Dominion Gallery inventory # D4028 and "15 Nov 66 / 17 Nov 66" and stamped Dominion Gallery
24 x 36 in, 61 x 91.4 cm

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

Sold for: $511,250

Preview at:

Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Equinox Gallery, Vancouver
Mr. & Mrs. Gordon T. Southam, Vancouver
Canadian Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, November 19, 2008, lot 14
The Collection of Torben V. Kristiansen, Vancouver

Doris Shadbolt, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1967, the 1948 oil entitled Qualicum Beach reproduced front cover and the similar 1950 oil entitled Low Tide, Qualicum Beach reproduced, unpaginated, catalogue #15
Ian M. Thom, E.J. Hughes, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2002, page 158, the 1948 oil entitled Qualicum Beach reproduced page 80, a 1958 oil entitled Qualicum reproduced page 135, a 1958 oil entitled View from Qualicum Beach reproduced page 126 and a similar 1955 oil entitled Looking North from Qualicum Beach reproduced page 126
Jacques Barbeau, The E.J. Hughes Album, Volume 1, The Paintings, 1932 - 1991, 2011, reproduced page 47

Qualicum Beach was a subject that Hughes delved into repeatedly, going back to 1948 when, while on an Emily Carr scholarship, he saw this beautiful location on a sketching trip to eastern Vancouver Island. Drawings done during this period served as source material for his work for years to come. It was Group of Seven member Lawren Harris who, impressed with his work, had recommended Hughes for this scholarship. He also corresponded with him to offer advice. In addition to Harris’s support, Hughes received recognition from A.Y. Jackson and George Pepper, and he was nominated to join the Canadian Group of Painters in 1948. That same year Hughes produced one of his most important early works, the powerful canvas entitled Qualicum Beach, with its dark palette, primitive style and sideways vantage point. It was acquired by Hart House at the University of Toronto.

Hughes moved to Vancouver Island in 1946, first to Victoria, then to Shawnigan Lake in 1951, and subsequently to Duncan. While in Victoria he painted two scenes of Qualicum. These were the famous Qualicum (1948), featured on the cover of his 1967 retrospective catalogue from the Vancouver Art Gallery, and in 1950 he painted Low Tide, Qualicum Beach, a composition very similar to Early May at Qualicum Beach, with a choppy sea and stormy sky. In 1958, he produced the fine canvas Qualicum, in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, with its strong emphasis on the patterning in the rocky beach, as well as an 8 x 20 foot mural commission for the CPR titled View from Qualicum Beach, dominated by mountains, which was installed in the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

It is interesting to note the evolution of Hughes’s style through paintings of Qualicum Beach from different decades, from a primitive to a more natural, though heightened, approach to the subject. Early May at Qualicum Beach, from the desirable period of the 1960s, has the strong use of colour typical of this time, in this case a dramatic steely sky over the deep blue ocean flowing into tidal flats, highlighted by bright whitecaps. Hughes adds the warmth of human presence by the inclusion of a man and his dog enjoying the atmosphere of the kind of fresh, windy day that is so exhilarating for walking on the beach.

The boats bobbing in the waves are similar to the ones seen in the 1950 and 1958 Qualicum works, and the man with his dog and the view of the tidal flats are virtually the same as in Low Tide, Qualicum Beach. These similarities are likely derived from his previous drawings of the site. Hughes constructed his image in layers, giving the viewer much to linger over, from the patterns of rocks in the foreground to the light reflected in the tidal flats, the rhythm of ocean waves and the expansive view capped by a startling sky. He chose his compositional elements with great care, and the positioning of each element is the result of a process of distillation and refinement. Reflective and expansive, Early May at Qualicum Beach is a superb work.

Hughes openly stated his interest in beauty in nature, and his numerous paintings of Qualicum Beach reflect this. Hughes took what was already stunning and refined it into something unique and unforgettable. Visiting the sites that he painted on the east coast of Vancouver Island, one is haunted by his vision of those places, which adds an overlay, an extra dimension and intensity to the scene.

One of the finest painters of the West Coast, Hughes never wavered in his love of landscape, stating, “One of the main reasons I paint is because I think nature is so wonderful.… I feel that when I am painting, it is a form of worship.” Constant in the conviction of his path, and unaffected by the changing fashions of art, Hughes created a legacy of painting that is of its time yet timeless, rooted in the beauty of his region, yet borderless.

For the biography on Torben V. Kristiansen in PDF format, please click here.

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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