Dame Elizabeth Blackadder (1931-2021)

We are immensely saddened by the news of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder’s death, aged 89. Blackadder was a major figure in Scottish art for nearly seventy years. Here Patrick Elliott, Chief Curator in Modern and Contemporary Art, delves into her artistic career and lasting legacy.

Jessie Ann Matthew Elizabeth Blackadder (1931-2021) Unknown © Jessie Ann Matthew

Born in Falkirk in 1931, Blackadder studied at Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1950s.  She was one of the last remaining links with the generation of artists born around the turn of the century who emerged in the 1920s. Her teachers included William Gillies (1898-1973) and William MacTaggart (1903-81), and like them she was inspired by the colour and expressive line of Post-Impressionist and Fauvist art.  

Elizabeth Blackadder Cats and Flowers 1980 © The Estate of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder. All Rights Reserved 2019/ Bridgeman Images

In 1956 she married fellow student John Houston and began teaching part-time at Edinburgh College of Art. She travelled widely across Europe, the USA and Japan, her journeys providing her with a rich source of images. Equally adept with oil painting and watercolour, and a hugely accomplished printmaker, she became celebrated as a landscape artist, and also for her paintings of flowers, cats and still lifes. Delicately drawn, subtly coloured and instantly likeable, the apparent ease of her technique belied her superb drawing skills. Her academic training at Edinburgh College of Art remained an anchor point. 

Elizabeth Blackadder Iris Oncocyclus 1996 © The Estate of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder. All Rights Reserved 2019/ Bridgeman Images

The way she could make a brush loaded with watercolour conjure up a petal was almost magical. But it is often the space between things which gave her paintings their charge; she had an innate, intuitive feeling for composition. She was the first woman artist to be elected a member of both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy. She was happiest in the studio of her Edinburgh home, with its glorious garden.

The retrospective exhibition we mounted at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh in 2011 remains one of the most popular and admired shows we have ever staged. It also demonstrated the extraordinary scope and variety of Dame Elizabeth’s achievement.   

Elizabeth Blackadder Flowers on an Indian Cloth 1965 © The Estate of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder. All Rights Reserved 2019/ Bridgeman Images

Sir John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland, was a student of Blackadder at Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1980s and was also involved in mounting that retrospective exhibition in 2011.

He observed: 'With the passing of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, we have lost one of the most distinguished Scottish artists of recent times. Across a long and successful career, Dame Elizabeth re-vitalised established traditions of landscape, still-life, and flower painting in this country. The beauty and accessibility of her art was underpinned by superb draughtsmanship and a breath-taking ability to find equivalents in paint for her observations and memories.  Her many achievements as an artist and her generosity and influence as a teacher have had a significant impact on the history of modern Scottish art.'

We are proud to hold over twenty artworks by Blackadder in the national collection, and we encourage you to take some time exploring them. 

Explore more artworks by Elizabeth Blackadder

25 August 2021