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Joan Eardley - Two Children

Regarded by many as the most important artist in post-war Scotland, Joan Eardley was born in Sussex but came to Glasgow in 1939 and studied at Glasgow School of Art. She divided her time between her town and country studios. Her two principal themes were Glasgow children who played in the streets near her Towhead studio and the landscapes and seascapes around Catterline, an old fishing village she ‘discovered’ on the east coast about 1950.

In the 1960s she began a series of paintings based on the Townhead youngsters that were characterised by a restless energy. Often, the children were depicted against a vibrant red backdrop inspired by the metal store at the corner of St James’s Road which had been given a coat of scarlet paint.

Two Children was Eardley’s last and most ambitious picture of the series and was found unfinished on her easel after her death at the age of 42 in 1963. This bold oil makes good use of pattern and colour and incorporates collage to depict the rough tenement walls plastered with graffiti. Eardley had found a set of old metal stencils and the stencilled letters – ‘metal store scrap’, ‘hair’ ‘woolen & baging’ – seem to dance over the heads of the two girls. To this she added the metal foil of sweet papers and newspaper headlines – the flotsam and jetsam of Glasgow street life.

The children are treated with freedom as part of the picture’s overall pattern of line and colour, their summer clothes a mishmash of styles, patterns and colours, and their expressions difficult to read – has the taller one just put a sweetie in her mouth or has she see something that has surprised or shocked her? The smaller of the two looks on in a more passive, subdued way. The rough almost makeshift application of the various media seems in accordance with a sensitive understanding of the children’s nature and their lives.

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