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E.J. Hughes: The World Famous Painter from Shawnigan Lake

Updated: Feb 22

E.J. Hughes was born February 17, 1913 in North Vancouver but spent the first nine years of his childhood in Nanaimo. For over 70 years he painted the landscapes of Coastal British Columbia. He died in January 2007 at the age of 93.

As a talented young man he was the first recipient of the Emily Carr Scholarship which allowed him to study in Vancouver under the stewardship of at least one of the Group of Seven artists, Frederick Varley. Over the years he accumulated other prestigious awards including the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia and Honourary Doctorate from the University of Victoria. For six years, during WWII, Mr. Hughes worked as an official war artist and produced over 1000 drawings, 30 full paintings as well as other pieces. Many of these hang in the Canadian War Museum.

In 1951, Hughes was discovered by Montreal art dealer Max Stern who arranged to buy all of his paintings. This arrangement lasted for over 20 years and enabled Hughes to have the financial freedom to paint - which is all he wanted to do.

E.J. Hughes lived at Shawnigan Lake for over twenty years until he found it too busy and noisy (circa 1970) and moved to Cobble Hill. Hughes’s last studio, in a modest house in Duncan, was a spare bedroom, with a table and easel set close to a single north window. He painted there, in the afternoon, six days a week. Sunday was his day off.

The vision of British Columbia, and particularly Vancouver Island, painted by E.J. Hughes, is full of charm and vitality. Although he is often mentioned in the same category as Emily Carr, it is the opinion of this writer that his pieces appeal to a greater audience and his work holds its own among the best of Canadian art.

In 2004, his painting Fishboats Rivers Inlet (1942) sold for $920 000 and yet people who knew Mr. Hughes hasten to describe him as the most modest of artists and a real gentleman. In November 2018, this painting was auctioned again for $2,041,250.

We sell over 100 reproductions of EJ Hughes' paintings (block mounts, canvas prints, matted prints, framed prints) in our gift shop. Download the catalog here. We take delight that such a man is woven into the history of Shawnigan Lake.

The Shawnigan Lake Museum has developed a geocache of Hughes' painting in this area. The prize for this cache is a series of coordinates based on E. J. Hughes paintings. Each destination provides a view that Hughes saw and subsequently painted. This project was inspired by one of the SLHS Directors and his wife (artist) who happened on a view that inspired a Van Gogh painting during a visit to France.

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