Eardley studied at the Glasgow School of Art during various periods between 1940 and 1948. In 1943 she won the Sir James Guthrie prize for her diploma self-portrait, now in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland. Following time spent in London and at Hospitalfield College of Art, Arbroath, Eardley undertook post-diploma studies at GSA and was awarded a travelling scholarship. This, combined with one from the Royal Scottish Academy, made possible an extended stay in France and Italy from 1948 to 1949. On her return, Eardley rented her first studio in Townhead, Glasgow in 1952 and staged a solo exhibition at her alma mater.
Canal Bank dates from this exciting period as Eardley emerged as an artist of tremendous promise, which she was to fulfill over the following fourteen years which remained of her life. Created on an intimate scale and in the horizontal format favoured in her early Catterline works, a clear graphic structure is realised in thick paint; Eardley's enjoyment of her medium and the view before her are palpable.
The Townhead area, of mixed residential and light industrial use, was overcrowded and dilapidated. However, she was drawn to its vibrancy and closeknit community. She was a regular sight in the streets, sketching buildings, people and scenes of daily life in chalks and pastels, which she then worked up into paintings in the studio.
Eardley is renowned for her portrayal of children, particularly those who lived around Townhead. In The Red Dress, Eardley has captured her sitter in a brief moment of repose and reflection. Viewed in profile, the girl's facial features are realised in the most detailed passage of the work.
In 1952 Eardley visited the fishing village of Catterline, on the north-east coast of Scotland, for the first time. It became a new stimulus where she could depict the immensities of nature in the open air, painting and sketching ‘on the spot’ in all seasons and weathers. She bought a cottage there in 1955, divided her time between Catterline and Glasgow and became an affectionately regarded member of the village community.
Just as she did in Glasgow, Eardley worked voraciously whilst in Catterline. As seen in Dark Field and Sun, she created dynamic, direct responses to her natural surroundings. Executed in watercolour and gouache, particular attention is paid to the seed heads in the foreground, which gives way via mid-ground vegetation to a speedily-executed summary of the sky above.
Haystack and Farm Gate, Dusk is an intimate yet powerful work. It was probably painted in the hinterlands of Catterline but may have been made near Eardley's friend Audrey Walker's cottage in Caverslee in the Scottish Borders. Eardley found endless inspiration in the cycle of day into night, the seasons and the agricultural calendar as experienced in the countryside and captured in her work, which she executed en plein air.
Eardley’s work was included in regular group exhibitions and was purchased for public collections throughout her career, beginning with an acquisition for Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum in 1952. Solo exhibitions in London and Edinburgh were met with increasing enthusiasm, concluding with her triumphant presentation at Roland, Browse & Delbanco in the English capital in 1963. This was also the year of her election to the Royal Scottish Academy and was followed shortly afterwards by her death, due to cancer, aged forty-two.
At the opening of the resultant memorial exhibition, Eardley’s former tutor Hugh Adam Crawford declared ‘her chief virtue to me lay in the fact that she understood the language of painting better than most and said things that could only be said in paint…[she] established herself…as one of the most distinguished painters of this century.’
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