Eleanor Mary Hughes


(Mrs) Eleanor Mary Hughes (1882-1959) Exh. RA 37

Public Collections include Oldham, Penzance and Dunedin.

Eleanor Waymouth was born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 3rd April 1882. Her parents had emigrated from England and her father became Managing Director of the Canterbury Frozen Meat Company. Encouraged by her grandfather, who gave her a fine wooden box of watercolours, she was awarded, at the age of 18, a medal by the Canterbury Society of Art for her drawings of trees and architectural studies around Christchurch. Accompanied by her sister, she came to London to study at the well-known 'Yellow Door' Studio under Frank Spenlove-Spenlove. In 1907, she moved to Newlyn in Cornwall to study under Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes and, whilst there, met and fell in love with a fellow student, Robert Morson Hughes. They married on 29th January 1910 at St Buryan Church, near Penzance. After staying briefly at Cliff House in Lamorna, they moved in 1912 to 'Chyangweal', near St Buryan, a house built to their own design. This was to be their home for the rest of their lives. Eleanor maintained a studio in the Lamorna valley, where she worked and her husband and herself were fully involved in the social life of the valley, which revolved around Lamorna Birch. She remained friends with Harold and Laura Knight after their move to London in 1918, and also fraternised with Dod Procter and Charles Simpson amongst others.

Hughes was primarily a landscape painter and she worked almost exclusively in watercolour, favouring the outline and wash method. She first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1911 and was a regular contributor until 1939, exhibiting 37 works in all. She also exhibited 34 times at the RI, being elected a member in 1933. Locally, she exhibited with the Newlyn Society and joined the St Ives Society of Artists in 1933. One reviewer described her aptly as "a portrait painter of trees". Whereas Birch would be drawn to the old and quaint buildings of favourite local haunts, like Trewoofe and Boleigh Farm, Eleanor would find untold majesty in the surrounding trees. These she recorded in intricate detail and she had a great ability to use light and shade to create space.

Robert and herself also travelled extensively, particularly to France, and they had a love for the Alps and the Pyrenees. Accordingly, there are a number of works depicting Alpine villages nestled beneath majestic mountains and of rocky torrents. In the late 1930s, she took up etching, her style being well-suited to this medium. In 1940, she sold her studio and, during the War, helped evacuee children. Her painting output dropped significantly thereafter, particularly as her husband was ill for a long time prior to his death in 1953. They had no children. In addition to her art, she was an accomplished pianist, loved gardening and cooking and made her own clothes. Her niece remembers her as a person of great warmth and zest for life.

(Abridged extract from David Tovey, Creating A Splash : The St Ives Society of Artists (1927-1952), Wilson Books, 2004)

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