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Joan Eardley Salmon Nets and the Sea, 1960. (The Hunterian, University of Glasgow) Image © Eardley Estate.
Joan Eardley Salmon Nets and the Sea, 1960. (The Hunterian, University of Glasgow) Image © Eardley Estate.

For Eardley a truly successful painting had to go deeper than a mere visual record, no matter how accurate…Her success lay in her ability to combine the acute, uncompromising painter’s eye with a warm human sympathy and understanding.
– Cordelia Oliver 

The Scottish Women and the Arts Research Network (SWARN) is to celebrate the life and work of the artist Joan Eardley in the centenary year of her birth. Eardley, who died at the tragically young age of 42, was one of Scotland’s most remarkable artists of the post war period. Along with Margot Sandeman, Cordelia Oliver and Bet Low she was also one of a group of important women working in the visual arts in Scotland at the time.

The University of Glasgow (including The Hunterian and Archives and Special Collections), The Glasgow School of Art, Paisley Museum and Art Gallery and Glasgow Women’s Library have come together in SWARN to explore Eardley’s career and legacy from a number of different angles, to celebrate her contribution to Scottish art in the 20thcentury, and to give her the profile that she richly deserves.

Joan Eardley was born on 18 May 1921 and attended The Glasgow School of Art from 1940 -1943. Between 1948 and 49 she travelled to Italy on a GSA travelling bursary and RSA Carnegie Scholarship. From 1949 – 1957 she worked full time in her studio in the Townhead area of Glasgow before beginning to divide her time between the city and the Aberdeenshire seaside village of Catterline. These two contrasting locations formed the subject of most of her paintings.

Whilst it is too early to know to what extent restrictions on social distancing will have been eased by next spring, the intention is to stage exhibitions and spotlight displays, support collections research projects, and present a wide-ranging programme of public workshops, talks and more. The programme will be delivered via a range of platforms both online and in real-time running from May 2021 – May 2022. 

“As a family, we are delighted that the Scottish Women and the Arts Research Network is working together to celebrate the life and work of my aunt, Joan Eardley,” says Anne Morrison. “Over the years, there have been exhibitions mounted, books written and even plays staged about her life and her art. There is something in her art which touches people on so many levels. Pulling together expertise and resources in this way will build on Joan’s standing as a British twentieth century artist of stature in her centenary year. I look forward to seeing it all come together.”

With 27 works on paper, 12 paintings and related archival material, The University of Glasgow is home to one of the most important groups of objects related to Joan Eardley in the west of Scotland. Covering most of her career, from early prints to late landscapes executed at Catterline, they also hint at the high regard in which the artist was held within the west of Scotland community. 

Ever since the Hunterian Art Gallery opened its doors in 1980, Eardley’s works have been favourites among members of the University community and visitors alike, from Scotland and further afield. Her ability to capture the elemental energy of her subjects gives her work a timeless quality that resonates with today’s viewers as much as it did with her contemporaries. 

The University of Glasgow is eager to take part in the celebrations planned around Eardley’s 100th birthday, and to share with its visitors the rich array of material, from little known letters to some of her greatest masterpieces kept in The Hunterian and in its library’s Archives and Special Collections departments.

“Joan Eardley’s gift was to bring seemingly everyday surroundings to life,” says Anton Muscatelli, Principal of Glasgow University. “Her seascapes at Catterline are amongst my favourite paintings and we’re very fortunate to have three in our University collection.”

“Given her enduring legacy and importance to the arts in Glasgow and beyond, it is entirely fitting that SWARN are marking the centenary of her birth. Joan Eardley understood the importance of place and the reality of human experience – impulses which resonate just as strongly today as they did a century ago.”

In the holdings of The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections are life drawings from Eardley’s time at the School, as well as sketches and the report from her visit to Italy. These have rarely been seen in public.

“Along with Margot Sandeman, Cordelia Oliver and Bet Low, Joan Eardley was one a group of  important women art practitioners and writers working in Scotland in the middle of the last century,” says Susannah Waters, Archives and Collections Manager at the GSA  “Next year’s centenary is an opportunity to shine a light on Joan’s life and work, explore her time at the GSA, her studies and tutors, and how these may have influenced the development of her work.”

Paisley Town Council first purchased the work of Joan Eardley in the 1960s. The active collecting of Eardley signified a change in Paisley’s collecting policy, then felt to be lacking in its representation of contemporary Scottish painting. Currently the art collection, which is held by Renfrewshire Leisure (on behalf of Renfrewshire Council) has thirteen works by Eardley. 

 “It’s an honour for us to play our part in the celebrations around the centenary of Joan Eardley’s birth,” says Chief executive of Renfrewshire Leisure, Dr Victoria Hollows. “She is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most original and inspiring artists of the 20th century.”

“We are thankful that officials of the former Paisley Burgh Council had the forethought to acquire two oil paintings by Eardley from the 1960s, and further donations augmented the collection which have since been exhibited at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries.”

“Whether it’s Eardley’s intensity and humanity as she painted portraits of children from Glasgow’s slums, or her dramatic seascapes of the Aberdeenshire coast capturing nature’s immense power, she was, and still is, a significant contributor to Scottish art practice and deserves much more recognition for her work. 

“I hope next year’s events celebrating Joan Eardley will help to do that and bring her work to public attention more widely.”

Glasgow Women’s Library hosted a talk by the biographer, Christopher Andreae when his book was published, and feature Eardley in the popular Merchant City Heritage Walk (her image, used with permission, is on the cover of the map). The walk was researched and compiled by volunteers, who were able to learn more about Eardley in this process. GWL’s senior managers, Sue John and Dr Adele Patrick are both GSA trained and very long-term advocates of Joan’s life and work.