Whistler’s Audain Art Museum (AAM) is to house the finest collection in Canada of works by late B.C. landscape artist E.J. Hughes, thanks to a major donation from a collector who bought his first painting by the artist over 50 years ago.
Retired lawyer Jacques Barbeau made the announcement at a press conference and tour of his Vancouver home on Monday, Oct. 6.
In all, 15 Hughes watercolours, acrylics and oils owned by Barbeau, plus an additional four Hughes paintings from Michael Audain’s collection, will be given their own room in the museum, to be named the Barbeau-Owen Gallery.
Born in North Vancouver in 1913 and passing away in 2007, Hughes painted well into his 90s. Most of the donated works are landscapes from Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands. One is a portrait of his mother, painted in 1939. Hughes captured a changing British Columbia over seven decades.
Now in his 80s, Barbeau and his wife Marguerite Owen amassed 80 Hughes paintings and drawings and were looking for a B.C. gallery to display part of the collection. When they learned of Michael Audain’s ambitions for an art museum at the resort, Barbeau fired off a two-line email to him.
It read: “If you have room, you can have the pick of the litter.”
Currently under construction in Whistler Village, the art museum is due to open in the fall of 2015.
Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, are the principal donors of artwork.
Suzanne Greening, the executive director of the AAM, along with Ian Thom, a senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery who chose the 15 paintings for the donation, joined Barbeau for the announcement.
In an interview, Barbeau said collecting was his passion.
“I don’t do golf, I don’t do sports. I do this,” he said, gesturing to the dozens of paintings on the walls of his Shaughnessy home.
“Over the course of the last 25 years of his life, E.J. Hughes and I got to know each other and we’d meet regularly. He would say, ‘My art is my bequest to the people of British Columbia.’ If he said it once, he said it 20 times,” Barbeau said.
“His real aim was for people to see (the work). In a typical museum today, they’re loaded and great works are hidden in the basement. Somebody told me to look at the website for the Audain Museum. And I saw the conceptual gallery, and said ‘This is manna from the heavens.’ This is perfect for Hughes.
“I contacted Michael and we took it from there. We decided to merge our works into a permanent collection. It allows me and my wife to meet our commitment to E.J. Hughes.”