Robert Morson Hughes


Robert Morson Hughes (1873-1953) Exh. RA 21

Public Collections include Penzance.

Born in Sussex, Bertie Hughes lived until he was 20 in Kent and was educated at Sevenoaks. His father was agent to an estate and Bertie was lined up for a career in agriculture but this held little attraction. His father commented, "If you want something without much work, you had better go in for art". Bertie, who was keen on sketching, lept at the opportunity and studied for a session at the Lambeth School of Art, before coming under the influence of Buxton Knight. In 1905, he came to Lamorna, with Charles Crombie, the popular illustrator, and became a close friend of Lamorna Birch. They both shared a passion for fishing and shooting and Hughes is featured as the angler in a number of Birch's works. In 1907, when Hughes was back living in Kent and studying art in South London, Birch went to stay with him and, when they were not painting, they were out shooting. In 1909, he returned to Lamorna and attended the Forbes School and there met his wife, Eleanor. They married the following year, which was also made memorable by his first success at the RA. In 1912, he was elected to the Newlyn Society of Artists, a body with which he was to be closely associated for many years. Too old for active service in the War, he joined Birch in the local Volunteer Force.

Principally, a landscape painter in oil, Hughes depicted the woods and valleys around his home at St Buryan and the rocks at Lamorna. An interviewer in 1939 felt that the following motto might aptly apply to his work, "Art is truth. I will be faithful. I will not ornament my vision" but, although some of his work can seem lacking in inspiration, he did produce some evocative works, helped by lyrical titles, such as Green-Robed Senators of Mighty Woods, The Coming Gold that Melts into the Grey and The Unnumbered Smiling of the Sea. The Birch family would often refer jokingly to the "Bertie Hughes method of painting". Whereas most artists would search out a suitable subject and, having found it, would settle down to record it, however great the discomfort, Bertie would apparently find the most comfortable, wind free spot he could and then paint what he saw! For holidays, France was a favourite destination and paintings of the French Alps feature regularly in his exhibits at the RA. He joined the St Ives Society of Artists in 1933 and was a regular contributor for the rest of his life, although, after the war, he was seriously ill with cancer of the tongue.

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

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