Jane Stewart Smith watercolours

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition highlights some more gems from our collection. The images are taken from 2 volumes of watercolours by Jane Stewart Smith.

Edinburgh based artist, Jane Stewart Smith was born in London in 1839. She principally produced scenes of Edinburgh’s streets and buildings in oil and watercolour.

She was the author of two books, ‘The Grange of St Giles’ (1898) and ‘Historic Stones of Bygone Edinburgh’ (1924).

She worked as a governess before she married Edinburgh framer and picture dealer John Stewart Smith in 1864, at the age of 24.

Antique buildings opposite Mint Close, Cowgate, 1868

Her paintings were a valuable record of areas that might be demolished, and their importance was evident later to those who had seen many changes in the city. As well as recording architectural landscape and detail, the pictures are full of atmosphere, with street life closely observed. We see traders, carters and washing hanging from the upper windows.

Stewart Smith would rise early to draw and paint these scenes before there were many people around. It was unconventional, daring even, for a women to work alone outdoors in the poorest and less salubrious parts of the town.

College Wynd, 1870

Her landscape paintings were included in almost every Royal Scottish Academy exhibition from 1865 to 1887.

As well as scenes of Edinburgh she also painted in Fife and East Lothian as well as other areas of Scotland. Other pictures shown at the RSA featured scenes of Shrewsbury, Chester, Rouen and Genoa.

When World War One broke out the Stewart Smiths had been married fifty years. They helped with fundraising with the Belgian relief effort through the Edinburgh French Protestant Church which they were both involved with.

Old Ecclesiastical House in Canongate, 1868

John Stewart Smith died in 1921. At that time, they had been living in Portobello together with a friend named Catherine Roberts, a retired dressmaker. Jane Stewart Smith died on 1 December 1925, aged 86.

Browse more of Jane Stewart Smith’s brilliant depictions of old Edinburgh on Capital Collections.

Find more information about Jane Stewart Smith on Edinburgh Footnotes.

Elizabeth Blackadder, 1931 – 2021

Elizabeth Blackadder would have been 90 years old this week, and here in the Art and Design Library, staff have been saddened at her recent passing. She was one of Scotland’s most loved artists and she achieved recognition and success across the UK. She was the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She was honoured with royal recognition too: an OBE in 1982 followed by a DBE in 2003. She was even appointed Painter and Limner to the Royal Household in Scotland in 2002.

Ruby Rose from the Art and Design Team has been spending some time with the Elizabeth Blackadder books in our collections and shares her thoughts. 

The artist at work in her studio by Elizabeth Blackadder, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

I have an abiding fascination with artist studios, materials and methods, so am particularly drawn to the Royal Academy Masterclass publication, “The Artist at Work in Her Studio” which conveys a sense of her approach to her work as a painter. In this beautifully illustrated book, she describes some of her processes and artistic choices in creating still life and flower paintings. She provides insight and opinions about painting in her own words, and it reminds me that she was a teacher at her Alma Mater, Edinburgh College of Art, for much of her working life. I find a quiet generosity to her commentary, and perhaps some sense of the pedagogical impulse in her straightforward descriptions of elements of her techniques. The book is laced with little snippets: the paper she uses, the colours she chooses, her approach to arranging a still life, even how she uses a paintbrush.  There is a complete lack of pretence, and in a wealth of photographs we get a wonderful insight into her studio and practice.

Morning glory : haiku and tanka by Alan Spence, illustrated by Elizabeth Blackadder, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

Another favourite of mine from the Art and Design Library collection, is Morning Glory by Alan Spence, a collection of poems in the Haiku and Tanka forms.  This tiny book of tiny poems is exquisitely illustrated with tender drawings and paintings.  Blackadder’s mid-life interest in Japanese culture comes through in delicate drawings such as a Matcha Whisk and blue green Matcha bowl with a wisp of steam rising from the warm tea within. There are Japanese fans and a kimono. These are echoes of her larger work with Japanese themes, and throughout you can sense an expressive evocation of the subjects.  There are several paintings of peacocks, including on the cover as you can see. I find the lively drama in her expressive brushstrokes delightful. Nothing has been overworked or laboured in the illustrations, and they appear almost effortless precisely because of the underlying skill of their creator. There is a resonance here to the immediacy of the small form of the poetry. The deceptive simplicity of the poems hides the process of creation.

This same sense of evocation and expressiveness comes through in one of her (and my) perennial favourite subjects: cats.  She drew cats in pencil and pastels, painted them in oils and watercolours, and they feature in her print work too.  The popularity of her cats was recognised in 1995 with a UK release of Royal Mail stamps featuring 5 especially commissioned cats.

Elizabeth Blackadder by Judith Bumpus, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

Happily for feline afficionados, several of the published monographs about her reproduce many examples of her cat paintings and studies. These include Duncan Macmillan’s 1999 survey of her career, and the first book dedicated to her by Judith Bumpus features a charming green cat amongst the foliage (“Cat and Orchids”, 1984) on its cover. 

Elizabeth Blackadder by Phil Long, available to reserve and borrow from Your Library

My final favourite is the book that accompanied the 2011 retrospective exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, “Elizabeth Blackadder” written by Philip Long, and reading it feels both appropriate and poignant at this time.  The exhibition celebrated Blackadder’s 80th birthday, and surveyed her entire career.  The book remains a perfect introduction and review of her work as she developed through the decades.  It contains a lush abundance of images ranging from landscapes, portraits and intricate pen and ink city sketches of Italy and Scotland created in the 1950s through the subsequent decades.  It gives an amazing insight to how the artist’s early subject matter evolves and develops, whilst new themes emerge, such as her interest in Japan.  I’m particularly drawn to a duo of detailed shells in watercolour painted in 2011.  Blackadder’s work belongs in many public collections, but she was extensively acquired by private collectors too, and this exhibition gathered together many artworks from private collections.  We are lucky to have the accompanying catalogue to let us have a glimpse of them now.  Indeed, amongst the collection in the library we also have a few exhibition catalogues from her solo shows that are a joy to look at.

These titles and more are available to browse and borrow in the Art and Design Library. Do pay us a visit soon – there’s no need to book. 

Celebrating 100 years of Joan Eardley

2021 marks the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley, one of Scotland’s finest and best loved artists of the twentieth century. To mark this, the ‘Eardley 100’ celebrations, a series of exhibitions and events are taking place nationwide.

Joan Eardley, image © Audrey Walker

As a painter Joan Eardley was bold, uncompromising and fiercely dedicated to her art. She divided her time between a small studio in the Townhead area of Glasgow, and one in Catterline, a small fishing village on the North East coast. Drawing and painting what she saw around her, these two contrasting locations became the lifelong focus of her work.

Blue Sky, 1956, oil on canvas, private collection.
© Joan Eardley Estate

At Townhead, a slum earmarked for demolition, she painted the densely populated and crumbling tenements and streets and became known to the poverty stricken families who lived there. Befriended by the children, they would frequent her studio, posing in exchange for sweets. Eardley produced thousands of artworks at Townhead, ranging from the sensitive pastel sketch on sandpaper, ‘Sleeping Boy’ (1962), to the evocative oil on canvas, ‘Glasgow Tenement Blue Sky’ (1956), capturing both place and people with an unflinching eye and fearless honesty.

Salmon Nets and the Sea, 1960. (The Hunterian, University of Glasgow)
© Joan Eardley Estate

At Catterline, Eardley became a familiar figure to locals as she immersed herself in the panoramic views outside. She could often be seen painting the leaden skies and ferocious seas during storms, her board and easel tied down to the beach with ropes and boulders. She began to work on an impressive scale, swapping her canvases for large boards and painting in fast, expressive strokes. Here, she evoked the exposed, rugged coast in powerful and monumental paintings such as ‘Salmon Nets and the Sea’ (1960), ‘The Wave’ (1961) and perhaps her most famous work, ‘Catterline in Winter’ (1963). At age 49, she died of cancer, cutting her life tragically short and ending a blazing artistic career too soon.

At Townhead and Catterline, Eardley found her voice. Her unique ability to capture their essence singles her out as an important and outstanding painter of both urban and rural Scottish identity. To quote Lachlan Goudie, who describes her as “one of the greatest painters in Scottish art history” and has long been an outspoken champion of her art, “No artist has painted Glasgow’s inner city the way Eardley did and very few have matched her visionary approach to painting the coastline of Scotland”.

Leading the centenary celebrations throughout 2021-22 is the Scottish Women in the Arts Research Network (SWARN) which brings together a range of cultural organisations across the country. Included are Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, Paisley and Arran where exhibitions, events and spotlight displays are taking place via a range of platforms both online and in real-time.

Here in Edinburgh, we are in for a treat. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has some of her most iconic paintings on show in their ‘Eardley and Catterline’ exhibition. The Fine Art Society is exhibiting Oscar Marzoli’s photographs of the artist alongside her work, and fine art auctioneers, Lyon and Turnbull, plan ‘A Century of Joan Eardley’, an auction focus that will bring her uniquely expressive work to the fore.

The Scottish Gallery has a major exhibition planned to coincide with the Edinburgh Festival. It will also be showing a series of online events, films, tours and talks. Dovecot Studios, who are working in partnership with the gallery, are creating a new tapestry based on her painting, ‘July Fields’ (1959) which will be unveiled at The Scottish Gallery.

We, at the Art & Design library, love Joan Eardley, and we applaud these moves to commemorate and shine a light on this remarkable artist.  Learn more about Eardley’s life, art, and why her legacy is so important by reading from the range of books on the artist in our collection. Although the Art and Design Library is not yet open to the public, books can be borrowed through a request service. To request books, please specify the titles you wish to borrow or the general subject area, your borrower number, contact details and when you would like to pick up your books. Email centrallibrary.reference@edinburgh.gov.uk and we will have your request ready to pick up from the front hall of Central Library.

We hope you will visit one or more of the exciting shows on offer, or watch and listen online, and perhaps raise a glass as the nation gives due praise to one of our best and most beloved. Happy 100th Birthday Joan Eardley! Let the celebrations begin!

For a full list of the SWARN events talking place, go to the Joan Eardley centenary website which is being updated as events are added.

 All images are used with kind permission of the Joan Eardley centenary website.

Art and Design Library exhibition October

The Art and Design Library‘s October exhibition is entitled Works on Paper. From the 9th-30th October you’ll be able to see a series of watercolour paintings created by artist Eva Mitera, graduate of the University of Edinburgh, participant of the X Florence Biennale and curated by Dr Shih Mei Lee.

Eva works in both oils and watercolours, creating paintings focused on the themes of  natural and meteorological phenomena, landscape and images alternately abstract and realistic. This exhibition however focuses on Eva’s watercolours, which are on a smaller scale than her oil paintings, but are independent pieces in their own right, not studies for her larger works.

Eva enjoys the process of creating watercolours, especially the unpredictability of the result. She allows the colours to blend across the paper to emphasize rich bright hues and brush stokes. In her experiments with this medium she has also added dry pastel, crayons and ink to achieve impressions of reality or imaginary landscapes. Her works present a sensation of radiant energy and controlled frenzy.




Things I like about dementia

After Edward McLaughlin received a diagnosis of dementia in 2002, he discovered to his amazement that he now saw the world and colours quite differently.

An exhibition of his paintings, highlighting the evolution of his vision, themes and technique, as well as the short film Things I like about dementia will be launched at Portobello Library on 11th April at 6.30pm.

Here’s a preview:


The exhibition runs until 6th May.


‘Winter Scenes’ by Finlay Mackintosh

This month’s Art and Design Library exhibition features the work of Glasgow-based artist Finlay Mackintosh.

Here’s what Peter Howson wrote of Finlay’s work:

`I first met Finlay in 1988, and from that meeting became as admirer and collector of his beautiful work. He is what I would call a genuine NAÏVE – that is to say he is a pure, sincere artist. He doesn’t try to obtain a childlike vision of the world. It is done without trying, and that is important. The landscapes and townscapes, and especially the snow pictures are my favourite. Many of these works have a sublime simplicity which is more difficult to achieve than people think. Over the years Finlay has developed his vision. The recent work is stunning, and shows him to be a master of his craft. It deserves recognition.’


‘Winter Scenes’ is on display until 29 April.

The Decoration of Spring

Spring has arrived! The flowers bud, newborn animals lay in the fields; and the sky transforms from the dark grey snows of winter, to the dull grey constant rain that all other seasons in the British Isles consist of.

So to help evoke the more traditional thoughts of spring, we turn to Capital Collections new online exhibition ‘L’ animal dans la decoration’. Merging bold colours with the use of animals, French Art Nouveau artist Maurice Pillard Verneuil, created a collection of prints which show how animals can inspire design and decoration in items of furniture, papers, tiles and even outdoor items such as railings.

So let Edinburgh Libraries bring spring to you, when the rain (or snow!!) prevents you from getting out and experiencing it for yourself.