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.