The Story of Scottish Art: Joan Eardley

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

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 West 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.

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

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


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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.