Joan Eardley’s career lasted barely fifteen years: she died in 1963, aged just forty-two. During that time she concentrated on two very different themes: the extraordinarily candid paintings of children in the Townhead area of Glasgow; and paintings of the fishing village of Catterline, just south of Aberdeen, with its leaden skies and wild sea.

Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley was born near Warnham, Sussex in 1921 the daughter of dairy farmers. Her younger sister, Patricia, was born in 1922 and died in 2013. Their father had been wounded in a gas attack in WW1 and subsequently suffered a mental breakdown and when Joan was nine he took his own life. In 1939 Joan’s mother, who was Scottish, moved with the two girls to Glasgow and in 1940 Joan enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art where she studied under Hugh Adam Crawford.

Joan set up a studio in Glasgow near the deprived Townhead area, and she became well known for her sympathetic, but not sentimental, highly individual drawings and paintings of poor city children who were often seen playing in the streets in ragged clothes.

More images were covered in an exhibition at the end of 2016, see here.

Her interest in painting children dramatically increased with the relocation to a studio on St James’ Road in 1953, where she lived near the Samsons, a family of twelve children. The family were all willing models and are captured within many of her works.

Another photo (below right) inside Joan’s studio, capturing her work in progress, and the end result (below left), shown next to it .

In 1943 she was awarded a diploma in Drawing and Painting, and won the Sir James Guthrie Prize for Portraiture.  After graduating in 1943 Joan trained as a teacher at Jordanhill Teacher Training College, but she never liked classroom teaching and left after one term. She chose instead to work as a joiners apprentice with a small boat building firm in Bearsden. This work, which, throughout 1944 included painting camouflage patterns on landing craft for the war effort, allowed her to attend evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art until 1946.  During the war, her painting of her shipyard work mates, The Mixer Men was shown at Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.

Joan went back to London for a short time, but returned to Scotland to continue her studies in 1947 at Hospitalfield House, in Arbroath under James Cowie, who influenced her choice of everyday subject matter. In 1948 she returned to the Glasgow School of Art to complete a post-diploma course. In 1948 the Royal Scottish Academy awarded Joan a Carnegie scholarship which, together with a traveling scholarship from the Glasgow School of Art, allowed her to visit Italy and, briefly, Paris for several months in 1948 and 1949.

In Venice she fell ill and had to travel to Florence for treatment by an English speaking doctor. Perhaps frustrated by how her work was developing, early in the her trip, Joan had destroyed all, but one, of the paintings she had made by that stage but back in Venice she painted, and retained, a number of works. During her stay in Venice in 1949 Eardley worked mainly in charcoal and pastel. Beggars in Venice is an example of the few oil paintings she produced at the time. The intense blue reflects the love for Giotto she developed during her time to Italy.  The painting realized £169,250 at a Sotheby’s London sale on 26 August 2008. On her return to Scotland in 1949 she mounted an exhibition, effectively her first solo exhibition, of work done in Italy, including a number of striking scenes of peasants, beggars, children and old women.

In the early 1950s while convalescing from mumps, Joan was taken to visit the coastal fishing village of Catterline, near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire where she started to spend part of each year and in the late 1950s the landscape and seascape at Catterline provided her with a powerful inspiration for some of her most dramatic and important works. It must have been quite a different landscape and atmosphere to the gritty Glasgow streets where she had grown up.

At Catterline Joan produced seascapes, often showing the same view but in different light and weather conditions.  She also painted landscapes showing the changing seasons in the fields around the village, her thickly textured paintwork sometimes incorporating real pieces of vegetation. To Summer Fields (c.1961) Joan added grass pieces to the paint surface while Harvest (1960-61) includes elements of grit. She usually worked outdoors and often in poor weather, sometimes in snowstorms or gale force winds. The Wave from February 1961, for example, was painted entirely in the open air and was one of four paintings she created during a particular storm, the state of the tides determining which of the four she would work on at any given time.

When she heard of a storm approaching the coast, she would travel by train from Glasgow to Stonehaven and then ride her Lambretta to Catterline. For her seascapes she switched from painting on canvas to using large boards, for a more rigid surface to work on, some of which were as large as six feet in length.

She painted outside no matter the weather (as you can see in the photo below) and her thickly textured paintings sometimes contained grains of sand and vegetation.

At the age of 41 Joan Eardley was diagnosed with breast cancer, which spread to her brain, but she refused treatment and sadly died in August 1963 at the very early age of just 42.

Her work appeals to me because I can see how well she understood and interpreted the landscape around her.

You can see a little more about Catterline where she lived, in this BBC documentary.

Whether it was the land or the sea, she had a way of expressing it’s force, movement and change of season.

From calmer times on this sunny hilltop.

To more turbulent seas and explosive, crashing waves and the darker depths of the cold ocean.

Before her tragic untimely death her work was already widely acclaimed and since then she has been recognised as an artist of international importance.

The painting below, is one of my favourite pieces. You can really feel the sun on the fields and the grasses waving in the gentle breeze in the foreground.

Her work can be seen in numerous public collections included Glasgow Museums, National Galleries of Scotland and Tate Gallery, London.

Which painting do you like ?