Head of Sale, Charlotte Riordan, discusses two lots from the forthcoming Contemporary & Post-War Art auction, and explores their surprisingly interwoven history.
The auction business is often filled with strange, serendipitous little coincidences and this sale has proven no exception. Quite independently of one another and from separate collections, a Japanese-themed example of the work of Elizabeth Blackadder and her husband and fellow artist John Houston have simultaneously emerged. The pair of much-loved Edinburgh artists married in 1956, travelling together extensively thereafter; all the time increasing their shared visual vocabulary. Japan was one of the best loved of the countries they visited, and certainly among the most influential on their art.
Japanese works by the duo tend to remain in private hands for now and are seldom seen on the market, perhaps particularly so in the case of John Houston. It is a happy coincide then, that two very strong examples should sit side by side in the same auction, representing an interesting opportunity for fans of their work. Both artists admired the gentle grace and symbolism of Japanese culture, each regularly experimenting with traditional materials like handmade Japanese paper. In lot 76 we see Houston keenly observing the colours of traditional female dress, the decorative lattice-work of the architecture, and the ritual of the tea ceremony.
Of the pair, though, we see this influence reflected most strongly in Blackadder’s work. The delicacy of her paint technique, the way she isolates collections of objects symbolically against blank planes of space, and the sense of flattened perspective indicate a deep engagement with Japanese artistic traditions. The pink silk kimono, pictured here in lot 74, is one from Blackadder’s own collection and can often be seen in photographs of her studio, as well as featuring in other earlier works. Her frequent use of a partial painted frame, in this case on the bottom left of the picture, is also a device borrowed from Japanese art. Depicted life-size, it emphasises the importance of this particular painting to the artist, the kimono represented as a supreme invocation of the Japanese culture in which she has maintained a lifelong interest.