Att Joan Eardley
At the School Gates
Medium: Pencil and Crayon
Size without frame: 11x16 in
Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley RSA was born in Warnham, Sussex in 1923 and died in Killearn, near Glasgow, in 1963. Painter in oil, watercolour, pencil, both landscape and figurative subjects. Her father was an army officer who took his own life when she was only 8 years old, while her mother was Scottish. She left Blackheath School in 1938, enrolling at Goldsmith’s School of Art, but only stayed a few terms before the family moved to Glasgow in 1940. There she began studying at the Glasgow School of Art under Hugh Adam Crawford and in 1943 was awarded the Guthrie prize for portraiture. At the end of 1943 she enrolled at Jordanhill College of Education in Glasgow, but left after the first term to become a carpenter’s mate. At this time she began visiting Corrie on Arran. After spending two years as an artisan, she returned in 1947 to study art at Hospitalfield, Arbroath, under James Cowie and there met Angus Neil who became a life-long friend. In 1948 she went back to Glasgow to resume a postponed post-diploma scholarship. Two further awards enabled her to visit Paris and Italy. In 1950 she discovered Catterline on the Kincardineshire coast, moving there in 1956. The previous year she had been elected ARSA and in 1963 became a full Academician, the youngest female artist to have achieved the honour. Although in 1956 she suffered neck problems which made it impossible for her to work, she fully recovered, but developed a terminal illness in 1962, dying the following year. It is hard to realise that the whole of her achievement was encompassed within the span of only fourteen fully creative years. Whilst her output cannot be separated into periods, it can be divided into two compositional types. These were the Townhead children of Glasgow, especially the archetypal Samson family whom she painted so beautifully and sympathetically, and the broader more elemental work done at Catterline. Those who prefer the latter speak of ‘the fullest flowering of her talent stimulated by the coast of Kincardineshire. There, something not only in the physical form of the place within its ambience set her imagination alight’. When at Catterline, she used a derelict cottage as her studio and much of her work was completed in the open. It has been said that ‘her work is remarkable in that while it is ‘contemporary’ in feeling it is completely unmannered. It proclaims allegiance to no school, it is technically as foreign to the self-conscious disciplines of hard-edge abstraction as it is to the spontaneous abandon of abstract expressionism….it is restrained in both colour and tone, yet strangely rich in both. It defies the jargon so adroitly applied to much of contemporary art’. [Cordelia Oliver] In the words of her biographer, William Buchanan, ‘Eardley’s life was a paradox. She was shy and gentle yet powerful; she understood the lives of children, yet had none of her own; she painted not only the city, but also the sea and the seasons of the year; and while her creative power was flowing fiercely, her life was extinguished’.
Exhibited regularly at the RSA from 170 Drymen Road, Glasgow (1959-1961) and after 1960 from 18 Catterline. Her work hangs in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Lillie Art Gallery (Milngavie, where there is an important collection of 60 works) among many others.