Joan Eardley

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Joan Eardley
Born Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley
18 May 1921
Warnham, West Sussex, England, UK
Died 16 August 1963 (aged 42)
Awards Sir James Guthrie Prize
Elected Royal Scottish Academy (1963)

Joan Eardley (18 May 1921 – 16 August 1963) was a British artist.

Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley was born in Warnham, Sussex, England where her parents were dairy farmers. Her mother, Irene Morrison, was Scottish. Joan had a sister, Patricia, born in 1922, died 2013.[1] Their father suffered a mental breakdown during the girls' early childhood, having been wounded in a gas attack during World War I; when Joan was nine he committed suicide. Joan's mother then took the two girls to live with her own mother in Blackheath, London in 1929 An aunt paid for the girls' education at a private school, where Joan's artistic talent was first recognised.[2]

Eardley trained at the local art school in Blackheath for a short time, and in 1938 enrolled at Goldsmiths College which she attended for one term. In 1939 she, her mother and her sister moved to Glasgow to live with her mother's relatives in Bearsden and in 1940 Eardley enrolled at Glasgow School of Art as a day student. She studied under Hugh Adam Crawford[3] and was influenced by the Scottish Colourists[4] In 1943 she was awarded a diploma in drawing and painting, and won the Sir James Guthrie Prize for portraiture. The prize, a biography of Guthrie by Sir James L Caw and published by Macmillan & Co. of London in 1932, is still in the possession of Eardley's family.

The Guthrie Prize.jpg

After graduating Eardley trained as a teacher, but she never liked classroom teaching and chose instead to work with a joiner and also went back to London for short time. She continued her studies in 1947 at Hospitalfield House, Arbroath under James Cowie, who influenced her choice of everyday subject matter. A scholarship enabled her to travel to Italy and France for a year in 1948-9.[six months in fact) During this time she saw many works by Italian Renaissance artists she admired, in particular fresco cycles by Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. She valued these artists' humanity and the sculptural aspects of their work.[5] On her return to Scotland in 1949 she mounted an exhibition of work done in Italy, including a number of striking scenes of peasants, beggars, kids and old women.[2]

Eardley set up a studio in Glasgow, close to the deprived Townhead area, where she became known for her drawings and paintings of poor city children, often playing in the streets in ragged clothes, the older girls looking after younger siblings. She also drew numerous scenes of the shipyards of Port Glasgow. Eardley had developed a unique style and she soon had a reputation as a highly individual, realistic and humane artist of urban life. She was often to be seen transporting her easel and paints around Glasgow in an old pram.

In the early 1950s while convalescing from mumps Eardley was taken by a friend to visit Catterline, a small fishing village near Stonehaven, then in Kincardineshire (now Aberdeenshire). Her friend Annette Stephen bought her a cottage there and she started to spend part of each year away from Glasgow in Catterline. Eardley bought another more suitable, but still basic cottage there in 1954; it had no electricity, running water or sanitation.[2] At Catterline she produced seascapes, often showing the same view but in different light and weather conditions. She also painted landscapes showing the changing seasons in the fields around the village, her thickly textured paintwork sometimes incorporating real pieces of vegetation.[6] She often worked outdoors and often in poor weather. Eardley became the focus of the "Catterline School" of artists, a group who were increasingly drawn to the village during the 1950s and who included Annette Soper, Angus Neil and Lil Neilson.

In 1955 Eardley became an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and in 1963 she was elected a full member of the academy.[4] The same year she opened an exhibition at the London Museum.

Death and legacy[edit]

Eardley was diagnosed with breast cancer which spread to the brain causing great pain but did not accept treatment. She was cared for by friends and died at Killearn Hospital in August 1963 at the age of 42. Her ashes were scattered on Catterline beach.[2]

Eardley's work was already highly acclaimed by many in Britain by the time of her death. Since then she has been recognised as an artist of international importance, although not universally. A retrospective exhibition held in Edinburgh in 1988 was hosted by the Talbot Rice Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy, the then director of the National Galleries of Scotland having declined the opportunity to mark the 25th anniversary of her death. A National Galleries of Scotland retrospective was finally held in 2007-8.[2] The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has many of her works.[3]

According to Dr Janet McKenzie of the National Galleries of Scotland, Eardley's untimely death 'meant that she was never given the stature she deserved. Her work deserves to be compared to Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Lucian Freud.' [2] For Guy Peploe, 'There was a desperate urgency to her work. It was almost as if she knew that she was not going to be the grand lady of Scottish art.'[2] Murdo Macdonald says of Eardley's Catterline seascapes: '[S]he committed herself to understanding the sea more than any other painter since McTaggart in the 1890s. Rather than just responding to the attraction of the coastline, she painted with the perception of a mariner aware that waves are heavy, fast moving lumps of water, as able to kill as to support. In this she reinvigorated a maritime trend in Scottish art...'[7] One of her biographers, Cordelia Oliver, observed that, 'for her a truly successful painting had to go deeper than a mere visual record, no matter how accurate... [H]er success lay in her ability to combine the acute, uncompromising painter's eye with a warm human sympathy and understanding'.[8]

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