In 1935, a major housing survey
conducted in Glasgow revealed that an estimated 65,000 new homes were needed to
resolve the city’s continuing overcrowding. Since only about half of these could
be accommodated within its existing boundaries, Glasgow City purchased
additional building land outside the city. From 1945 onwards, it built
large-scale developments such as Castlemilk and annexed suburbs like Drumchapel.
Whilst providing much-needed housing, these schemes did destroy close-knit
Glasgow communities as thousands of people were forced to move to Outer Glasgow
and beyond. Rather than making the case for social reform, the artist Joan
Eardley documented the reality of Glasgow tenement street life before it
completely disappeared under these measures.
The two children depicted in this painting are from the Samson family, who lived near Eardley's studio in the Townhead area of Glasgow. They feature in many of her paintings. The stencilled lettering and fragments of collaged newspaper imitate graffiti; the silver and gold papers are probably sweet wrappers. Eardley has depicted the children in a child-like manner, set against the debris of their everyday life.
Born in Sussex, Eardley moved to Glasgow at the outbreak of war. She studied at Glasgow School of Art and at Hospitalfield House under James Cowie. Cowie helped to shape her preference for everyday subjects. In 1949 Eardley rented a studio in the centre of Glasgow, and a few years later moved to Townhead, where the local street children were her preferred subjects. She bought a cottage in the small fishing village of Catterline, south of Aberdeen, in 1954. There, her favourite subjects were the village and sea, particularly in stormy weather. Eardley died of cancer in August 1963. Her ashes were scattered on the beach at Catterline.