10 things you probably didn't know about Joan Eardley

Joan Eardley first visited the small fishing village of Catterline in 1951 and immediately fell under its spell. She returned on several occasions over the next year or two to paint there, staying at the village Watch House. From 1954 she rented No. 1 South Row, the most southerly building in Catterline. Although she divided her time between Glasgow and Catterline, by the late 1950s she was living, for the most part, in the fishing village. This much of the story may already be familiar to you but read on to learn some lesser-known facts about one of Scotland’s most admired artists.

This blog is authored by Leila Riszko, Curatorial Assistant of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland.

1) The South Row of cottages, where Eardley lived in Catterline from 1954 until 1959, had no mains electricity or water. This caused her no concern though. In fact, rudimentary rural life was of great appeal to her. When she moved into No. 1 – a single room dwelling – it had a bare earth floor and no ceiling. Using an old canvas sail, she divided the room in half; one side became a bedroom, the other a kitchen and studio space. In the bedroom she fitted a rough wooden floor, with an old ship’s matting for carpet. Then, she and her friend Angus Neil made a ceiling out of rejected canvases and boards nailed to the beams. Eardley had experience of this kind of work, having served as a joiner’s apprentice during World War II.

Joan Eardley Seated on a Pile of Wooden Boards, about 1955. Photograph by Audrey Walker. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archive: presented by the artist’s sister, Mrs P. M Black, 1987.

Every morning she filled up a bucket of water from a spring tap halfway down the hill in front of the row of cottages where she lived. She collected one bucketful for herself, and one for her neighbour, Mrs Taylor. All the South Row residents got their water this way, boiling it for drinking and putting a teacloth over the top to stop insects getting in.

Outside No. 18 Catterline: Joan Eardley sitting on bench outside cottage Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archive.

2) She moved to a cottage at No. 18 in the centre of the village in 1960. Unlike No. 1, this cottage had electricity. She replaced the wind-up record player that she had used when she lived at No. 1 with a new electric one, enjoying music by J S Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald. She also acquired a television, becoming only the second person in the village to own one.

Joan Eardley, Sheep Feeding in a Field of Turnips, about 1960. Black ink and watercolour on grey paper, 49.6 x 64.6 cm. National Galleries of Scotland: presented by the artist’s sister, Mrs P. M Black, 1987.

3) Sheep were among her favourite motifs. She made many drawings of them, but not many paintings, perhaps because she could not easily get her painting gear up to the farms on her Lambretta scooter. Unable to transport big boards on her scooter, Eardley often wrote of her ambition to learn to drive and buy a van so that she could reach and paint other places along the Aberdeenshire coastline. This ambition went unrealised.

Joan Eardley, Boats on the Shore, about 1963. Oil on board, 101.6 x 115.6 cm. National Galleries of Scotland: Scott Hay Collection, presented 1967.

4) Occasionally, Eardley painted the numbers on the fishing boats at the start of the fishing season, earning a lobster in return.

Joan Eardley in the studio, working, 1962. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archive © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021.

5) Whereas Eardley’s Catterline works were painted outdoors, her Glasgow works were made indoors, after sketches and photos if a live model were not present.

Joan Eardley, Two Children Seated on the Ground, Reading Comics. National Galleries of Scotland © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021.

6) A keen reader, she enjoyed works by Samuel Beckett, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Allen Ginsberg, and the poetry of Edith Sitwell. We know from her letters that she also read Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ in its entirety.

7) A slipped disc in her neck made it difficult for Eardley to paint for a period of about two years. To manage it, she sometimes wore a surgical collar when painting. This seems to have affected her through 1956 and 1957.

Joan Eardley, Waves Breaking on the Shore. National Galleries of Scotland © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021.

8) Always in hope of wild weather conditions, she often listened to the shipping forecast on the radio. Eardley could travel by train from Glasgow to Stonehaven (the nearest railway station to Catterline) in just under three hours. If a storm was brewing in Catterline and she heard reports of it, she would jump on a train and journey to the north-east coast to paint the waves.

Audrey Walker Joan Eardley's cat, Mrs Cat Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archive. © Audrey Walker

9) Late in life, Eardley acquired a cat, whom she named ‘Mrs Cat’.

10) A new building development, behind her former cottage at No. 1 on the South Row, was proposed in the 1970s. The proposal was quashed when Eardley’s paintings were literally brought to the hearings and taken as evidence of the historical importance of the row.

Pre-order Joan Eardley: Land & sea-A life in Catterline (paperback)

£22.95

Pre-order Now

This beautifully illustrated book on artist Joan Eardley is published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth in 2021. Joan Eardley, one of Scotland’s most loved artists, visited the coastal fishing village of Catterline in 1951 for the first time. It sparked a fascination that would last the rest of her life.

Focusing on Eardley’s relationship with Catterline, this book includes previously unpublished archival material as well as specially conducted interviews with many of those in the village who knew her best, shedding new light on Eardley’s life and artistic practice. A vivid portrait is painted both of Eardley and of the village, showing the vital part Catterline played in her development as an artist. 

Pre-order only. This book is not printed yet, copies are expected for dispatch mid-Summer

1 July 2021