One of Scotland's most remarkable talents of 20th century Scottish art, Joan Eardley's powerful and expressive works captured the essence of some distinctly Scottish people and places. Born in 1921, Eardley captured the energy and community of a quickly disappearing urban way of life in the east end of Glasgow, and the drama and brutality of varying weather effects on the small fishing village of Catterline on the North-East coast. During her lifetime, Eardley was considered a member of the post war British avant-garde who portrayed the realities of life.
Eardley moved to Glasgow in 1940 and enrolled in the Glasgow School of Art, where she was first allowed the freedom to reject conformity and academic constraints, and to experiment with a new abstraction and expressionism. In her final year, Eardley painted Self Portrait, 1943, which won her the Sir James Guthrie Prize for portraiture. It was during her studies in Glasgow that she discovered the backstreets of the city and became fascinated with the children who innocently and naïvely inhabited them.
Devoted to Glasgow, Eardley was particularly drawn to the fast-disappearing areas to the east which were being torn down and re-developed. Nothing represented this more for Eardley than the local children: “…they are Glasgow – this richness Glasgow has – I hope it will always have – a living thing, an intense quality – you can never know what you are going to do but as long as Glasgow has this I’ll always want to paint.”
In her Townhead studio, she worked on a series of sketches of children, encouraging them to sit for her in exchange for sweets and comics. Many of these drawings were on scraps of sandpaper or loose sheets joined together by paperclips and provided Eardley with imagery for many of her oil paintings. She was said to have preferred children as her subjects because they came with ‘no airs and graces, no self-consciousness, and a kind of inward self-absorption’, which she portrayed with a tender but tough reality. Through combining traditional painting practices with her own unique experiences and interactions with these children and the urban landscape of Glasgow, Eardley’s work serves as a study of a world now lost.
A complimentary contrast to her representation of urban life in 20th Century Glasgow, Eardley's expression of nature in Catterline was where she produced some of her finest and most powerful works. She was instantly attracted to the cliff-top village after a visit with a friend and travelled continuously between Glasgow and Catterline, before it became her permanent home, where she was absorbed by the power of the sea. She drew inspiration from the open air, and battled with the elements, often leaving her easel and paints outdoors overnight, feeling this experience improved rather than ruined her art.
Order and vision arise out of Eardley's works that at first glance may seem or feel to be messy or chaotic. In essence, this is Eardley’s distinct skill in art; she was always led by her dynamic, chaotic subjects – the innocence of the street children of Townhead, the awe-inspiring drama of the Catterline coast, and her techniques were guided by them. These were difficult, temperamental subjects that she managed to beautifully and sensitively capture; revealing with care both the order and the chaos, the beauty and the mess, artistry and reality of the everyday across Scotland.
In 1963, Eardley was elected to the Royal Scottish Academy, and finally gained recognition south of the border with a hugely successful show in Rowland, Browse and Delbanco, London. Her career lasted barely fifteen years, when her life was tragically cut short at just 42 years of age in August of that year. In January 1964, the Joan Eardley Memorial Exhibition opened at Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum at Kelvingrove, before being shown at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. From 2007-2008, the Joan Eardley retrospective was held at the National Galleries of Scotland.
In her biography by Cordelia Oliver, Joan Eardley, RSA, Oliver wrote..."for her a truly successful painting had to go deeper than a mere visual record, no matter how accurate... [H]er success lay in her ability to combine the acute, uncompromising painter's eye with a warm human sympathy and understanding."
Consignments invited until Friday, 23rd April 2021
Lyon & Turnbull’s Scottish Paintings & Sculpture specialists host two auctions per year from our Scottish auction house based in Edinburgh. Successfully selling around 90% of Scottish Colourist works handled in the last eight years, a record unmatched by our competitors – selling Scottish art in Scotland has always been a Lyon & Turnbull lynchpin. Our specialists are experts not only on the works of Scottish artists, but also on the workings of the art market, and it is this combination that fuels our on-going success in the field.
To enquire about consigning to the next specialist auction of Scottish Paintings & Sculpture on 3rd June 2021 in Edinburgh call us on 0131 557 8844.