Hugh Bulley, 1924-2020

The Rendezvous, Chapter 13 from 'Zadig ou la Destinée' by Voltaire (1694-1778)
(oil on canvas), Hugh Bulley (1924-2020) / Private Collection

The artist Hugh Bulley has died after a short illness, aged 95.

Bulley was born in Hindhead, Surrey, and educated at St Edmund’s school, which was run by his parents, Rosamira and Ivo. In 1938 he became a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, receiving first-class honours in the passing out examinations in 1942. His experiences of the Second World War are recounted in his autobiography A Boy at Sea, written in 2005.

In 1963, he studied at the Central School of Art and Design in London, and began his belated career as a painter. In 1964, he was elected to the Art Workers’ Guild.

The Battles, Chapter 17 from 'Zadig ou la Destinée' by Voltaire (1694-1778)
(oil on canvas), Hugh Bulley (1924-2020) / Private Collection

In the 1980s he began to draw inspiration from famous works of literature, catalysing a series of paintings based on Aristophanes’ Peace, Brecht’s Mother Courage, Voltaire’s Candide and Zadig, and works of Shakespeare. His work featured in international exhibitions and publications across the world.

Bulley meticulously planned his work, layer by layer, from the base drawings to the thick layers of oil paint. His incessant artistic vision resulted in numerous sketchbooks, prints, paintings and sculptures. 

Quite the individual Bulley embarked on a spontaneous art sabbatical in Costa Rica and danced in the Sri Lankan city of Trincomalee. He would also take pleasure in reading the classics in Latin, Ancient Greek and Farsi simultaneously.

The Dog and the Horse, Chapter 3 from 'Zadig ou la Destinée' by Voltaire (1694-1778)
(oil on canvas), Hugh Bulley (1924-2020) / Private Collection

Bulley produced his final work based on Voltaire’s Zadig. He translated the text from French and added his illustrations with intense colour schemes and stylised figures. In 2004 he was guest of honour at the celebrations in Ferney-Voltaire, the French town that was Voltaire’s home for many years, to mark the 250th anniversary of the publication of Candide.

Hugh is survived by his wife Christiane, by three daughters from his first marriage, to Jean, which ended in divorce, and a grandson.


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