- Exhibition Title
Joan Eardley: Townhead to Catterline. A Centenary Tribute
To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley (1921–1963), Glasgow Museums is highlighting the 24 Eardley artworks in its collection, five paintings and nineteen works on paper (pastels, watercolours and drawings). The museum’s holdings include early works such as Stack Yard (1947) from Eardley’s residency at Hospitalfield near Arbroath and Glasgow Kids, a Saturday Matinée Picture Queue (1849), painted shortly after her return from a travel scholarship to Italy and France. A Glasgow Lodging (1953) shows her close friend Angus Neil, Children Playing (c.1955) kids in Townhead skipping and jumping through hopscotch squares and A Stormy Sea No.1 (1960), the sea crashing on the shore at Catterline. The centenary provides an opportunity to draw attention to lesser known works, studies for larger compositions and relatively recent acquisitions such as Evelyne and Sadie (1962) which demonstrates Eardley’s skill as a child portraitist and documenter of place. Two Children, left unfinished on her easel at her death, offers unique insights into Eardley’s working practice.
Eardley was one of the most exciting artists to come out of post-war Scotland. Her artworks are energetic, passionate and expressive. Born in Sussex, she came to Glasgow at the outbreak of World War II and studied at Glasgow School of Art. After a summer residency at Hospitalfield, she made a formative European trip funded by two travelling scholarships. On her return to Glasgow in 1949 she began to paint local children in the grimy east end of Glasgow. In 1951 Eardley discovered the remote north-east fishing village of Catterline and from 1954 travelled between studios here and in Glasgow. Whether painting mischievous children on the impoverished streets of Townhead or braving the elements on the shore of Catterline, Eardley explored themes of person and place, documenting disappearing communities, capturing the restless energy of children and sea. A prolific painter, she tirelessly worked out her subjects in drawings and paint. Her oils of Catterline in particular are abstracted and have been linked to American Abstract Expressionism but they remained grounded in real time and experience, and very much her own. Eardley was open about her sexuality as a lesbian at a time when much was hidden and unsaid. Similarly in art she wasn’t afraid to tread her own path.
Tragically Eardley died of cancer in 1963 aged only 42. Her premature death meant that she didn’t receive the critical attention her expressively individual work warranted. In 1963 she was just beginning to break through into the London art scene with an acclaimed exhibition at the London Museum and a single-artist show at Rowland, Browse and Delbanco. She had also just been made a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy and an honorary member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists’ Club. In 1964 there was a large memorial exhibition of her work held at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. In 2021, Eardley’s centenary year, exhibitions and events celebrating her achievements are taking place across not only Scotland but the UK as a whole.