HER paintings and drawings captured life on the streets and in the faces of the children of Townhead in Glasgow, and her spiritual home at Catterline on the Kincardineshire coast.
Joan Eardley’s first studio was on Cochrane Street, close to the city centre, where 30,000 people lived in rows of black tenements, with their rear drying greens, where the artist – regarded by many as a genius – quickly became accepted.
Now The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, which promoted Eardley’s brilliance through her lifetime, is mounting an exhibition of her work to mark the centenary of her birth, coinciding with the Edinburgh International Festival.
It will position her as one of Scotland’s greatest talents, as well as allowing speculation about what she might have achieved had she lived.
Joan Eardley Centenary will include her most celebrated subjects through drawings and pastels, her poignant story and early death and her passionate engagement with art, as well as featuring the self-belief and intense shyness which are laid bare in every work she created. The warmth of the stove in Eardley’s studio in what was then regarded as a “slum” near Glasgow city centre, proved something of a draw for the children of Townhead, who were happy to sit for a few minutes in returned for a boiled sweet.
They were drawn to her, often asking: “Joan, Joan, will you paint me?”
The gallery said Eardley was, in reality, “an artist anthropologist, observing and participating, neither sentimentalising or disguising the poverty”.
It added: “She recorded a world where adults were indoors, working, or in the pub, and the children were on the street – lives lived as they cannot be today.”
Christina Jansen, director of The Scottish Gallery, described Eardley, who would be 100 this year, as one of Scotland greatest and best loved painters.
“Her death in 1963, at the age of just 42, from breast cancer means that we are always left wondering at what greatness and international stardom she could have achieved had she lived longer,” said Jansen.
“We want to share the work of Scotland’s best loved woman artists with you; wherever you are in the world, near or far, we want everyone to be able to enjoy and celebrate this unique talent.”
The artist’s estate and The Scottish Gallery are working with Dovecot Studios to create a new tapestry in honour of Eardley, which will become part of the exhibition.
Joan Eardley Centenary – from July 28 to August 28 – will be open to the public and via The Scottish Gallery’s online viewing rooms.
— to www.thenational.scot