From Frances Hodgkins To Rachel Hodgkins, 17 May 1916, 7 Porthmeor Studio, St. Ives
‘Mrs Hughes a Chch artist called on me yesterday. She lives in Newlyn’.
Eleanor Mary Hughes (née Waymouth) (1882-1959) was born in Christchurch where the family home was the celebrated Mona Vale. Her mother Alice encouraged both Eleanor and her sister Biddy to develop their artistic interests. She studied at Canterbury College School of Art and with C.N. Worsley between 1901-03. She exhibited at the Christchurch Society of Arts in 1902 before leaving for England in 1904 to attend the School of Painting and Drawing run by Stanhope Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes in Newlyn.
A brief return home consolidated her New Zealand reputation, but she left again for England in mid 1907 to study at Frank Spenlove’s Yellow Door Studio in London, before returning to Newlyn. She married a fellow Newlyner, Robert Hughes in 1910, and gradually became one of the stalwarts of the Cornish school, specialising in watercolour landscape and later in etching.
The couple designed and built their own home, Chyangweal, near St Buryan and the house became a regular social centre for artists settled in the area. Eleanor Hughes was a skilled pianist and would lead recitals at their home. In Cornwall the couple became lifelong friends with Laura Knight and her husband Harold Knight, who painted their portraits on a number of occasions.
The Cornish landscape and in particular the Lamorna Valley provided inspiration for Hughes’ works. She purchased her own studio and exhibited regularly from 1911 at the Royal Academy and eventually with the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. Few members of the Cornish schools specialised in watercolour, but its qualities suited Hughes’ vision very well. She delighted in the scenery of her adopted region, West Penwith, and its key characteristics are always recognisable in her landscapes. Hughes became known, along with Lamorna Birch, as the essential illustrators of that area.
Hughes’ signature clarity, delicacy of colouring and draughtsmanship are on full display in the handsome work illustrated here. Craggy Foreshore, Land’s End, Cornwall also displays one of the artist’s favourite views. Although she was equally adept at inland scenes, and especially from 1930 on, gave special attention to trees as visual motifs, Hughes’ forté was her ability to capture the Cornish coast in all its rugged splendour. The present work, of museum quality, has fit companions in public collections such as Cliff near Land’s End, Cornwall, England (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū) and The deserted mine (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).
Hughes sold her studio in 1940 and her output slowed considerably after this. She died in Lamorna in 1959. Eleanor Hughes is to this day recognised as one of the core group of Cornish school artists, whose distinctive style is immediately recognisable.