The Story of Scottish Art: Joan Eardley

by Becky Manson, Digital Content Curator, 28 October 2015

The final episode of the BBC’s The Story of Scottish Art recently aired on BBC Two Scotland – looking at how the last century has seen artists in Scotland exploring and questioning the theme of identity. The programme will look at Joan Eardley, whose painted portraits of children in deprived suburban Glasgow, and depictions of dramatic landscapes which chart the changes of season celebrate two distinct aspects of Scottish identity: the urban and the rural. Despite her untimely death at the age of 42, Eardley remains one of Scotland’s best loved artists.

Eardley was born in Sussex in 1921, but moved to Scotland with her family in 1939 - taking up residence in Bearsden, a suburb to the northwest of Glasgow. Eardley enrolled at Glasgow School of Art in 1940, graduating in 1943 with a diploma in Drawing and Painting. In the early 1950s, the artist rented a studio in the Townhead area of Glasgow. It was here that Eardley’s interest in documenting the children who played in the back streets of the city began.

Joan Eardley, 1921 - 1963. Artist, Joan Eardley, 1943 − © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015

In the early 1960s Eardley said: ‘some [children] interest me much more as characters… these ones I encourage – they don’t need much encouragement – they don’t pose – they come up and say, “will you paint me?” There are always knocks at the door… I try to get them to stand still – it’s not possible to get a child to stay still… I watch them moving about and do the best I can’.

Children and Chalked Wall 3, Joan Eardley, 1962 − © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015
Street Kids, Joan Eardley, 1949 − © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015

Alongside the children of Glasgow, Eardley’s other major inspiration was arguably a small village in Aberdeenshire. In the final episode of The Story of Scottish Art, presenter Lachlan Goudie focuses on her relationship with Catterline – a coastal village on the North Sea, that the artist first visited in 1951. During a period of illness, Eardley discovered Catterline on a drive with her friend, Anette Soper. That same year, Soper bought a small building on a cliff top, from which she and Eardley could paint. In 1955 Eardley purchased her own cottage there - travelling back and forth between the village and her home in Glasgow until her death in 1963.

Goudie suggests that the seascapes she created during this time are some of the artist’s most personal images, with Eardley herself stating that the more she got to know a particular place, the more she found to paint there. Though Eardley’s final works focused again on urban Glasgow’s children, the artist’s affinity with the rural village’s stormy seas are evident. Following her death, Eardley’s ashes were scattered on the beach at Catterline.

The Wave, Joan Eardley, 1961 − © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015
Catterline in Winter, Joan Eardley, 1963 − © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015

A number of works by Joan Eardley will be on display as part of ‘Modern Scottish Women’ at theScottish National Gallery of Modern Art from November 7th. 

You can also talk to us about Scottish Art on Facebook or Twitter using #ScottishArt.