Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary

29 Apr 2020

The Scottish Gallery Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary 2021

Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Glasgow Tenements Blue Sky, 1956, oil on canvas, 81 x 101.5 cm

It is informative to look within the recent history of art at how an artist’s reputation is made and secured and how it is the support of a commercial gallery that is often first and foremost.

A former Director of The Tate, Norman Reid, stated that his institution had to acquire contemporary work to reflect cultural reality, whether or not it was good or would stand the test of time. But there is a necessary lag: the institute is not fleet of foot; it must reflect rather than lead. More recently Tate leader, Sir Nicholas Serota, worked closely with the market, often with the dealer/collector Charles Saatchi at least placing the institution in an apparent vanguard; and the Turner Prize seems to have all the attributes of a marketing extravaganza. We should not be surprised that major prize recipients sell their art and books like hot cakes.

Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Joan Eardley in her Townhead studio, c.1959. Photograph by Audrey Walker
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Boy Sleeping in Blue, c.1962, pastel on glass paper, 22 x 28 cm
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Glasgow Children Drawing on a Pavement, c.1959, pastel on paper, 15.25 x 20.25 cm
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Two Glasgow Children, c.1959, pastel on buff paper, 29.5 x 21.5 cm
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Head of a Boy, c.1953, oil on panel, 27 x 17 cm (detail)

Work represented in public galleries and exhibitions mounted are important milestones in an artist’s career. But look at the timelines and circumstance for the real history: the date of the acquisition and who paid for it or made the donation; is the collection of new work always the best? A policy of ‘filling in of gaps’, of cultural catch-up is always under review, a quite proper response to art historical developments. The institution, its programme and collections policy must be limited be by time, space and policy.

Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Sea at Catterline, c.1960, oil on board, 71 x 119 cm
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Joan Eardley in Catterline, 1955. Photograph by Audrey Walker
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Joan Eardley in Catterline, 1961. Photograph by Audrey Walker
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Catterline Landscape, c.1960, oil on board, 87.5 x 85 cm

I would love to see a major show in her home town and the centenary of her birth would seem a great time to celebrate one of Glasgow's greatest artist.

Anne Morrison-Hudson, 2020
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
The Sea IV c.1960, oil and collage on board, 105 x 105 cm

A recent article in The Herald bemoaned the lack of a plan for Glasgow Museums to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley in 2021 and we can perhaps all agree. It would without doubt have been immensely popular and the first major public show since her Memorial Exhibition in the city in 1964. Previously The Gallery has worked with the Arts Council, over her memorial shows and the Talbot Rice Gallery in 1988 when they mounted an exhibition and Cordelia Oliver’s monograph was published. Milestones of prices achieved, new audiences found, significant new advocate/collectors enthused, the commercial development without which an artist profile can dwindle was the enterprise of the Gallery Directors.

The Scottish Gallery was hugely important for Joan in her lifetime and has continued to be so for the Eardley family in promoting her work over the years.

Anne Morrison-Hudson, 2020
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
The Macaulay Children, c.1957 | commissioned by William Macaulay, Director of The Scottish Gallery

I remember attending an exhibition opening at the age of around 9 in the old Castle Street gallery. It was a huge event for the whole family, travelling to Edinburgh on the train for the opening with Joan there. I was too young then to appreciate how important a milestone it was in Joan's life to have that recognition and exposure with such a major show which sadly was she only enjoyed for such a short time before her untimely death. How would her work have evolved had she lived a long life, that's the question I ask myself often.

Anne Morrison-Hudson, 2020

Our long association going back to the fatherly relationship she enjoyed with Bill Macaulay, senior partner in the fifties until her death, was commercially significant for both. Her next show with Roland Browse & Delbanco in London, in close collaboration with The Gallery, was to have included a New York leg: an international context her work undoubtedly deserved. Her tragic death at forty-two robbed her of so much, including the certainty of huge success. However the poignancy of her personal life: her sacrifice, has become a glowing, emotive element in her reputation today. The art stands well for itself alongside the giants of the modern period, in Europe and The US, but her privations, dedication and expressionist empathy have become ingrained in our understanding of Joan Eardley.

Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Restless Talent, 2017
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
In Context, 2015
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Joan Eardley, 2013
Celebrating Joan Eardley’s Centenary
Modern Masters II, 2014

The Scottish Gallery have been planning our own centenary celebration for some time and we look forward to providing another significant way mark in the nation’s love affair with one of her greatest artists. You can contact the gallery to go on the waiting list for forthcoming information; mail@scottish-gallery.co.uk. We would like to thank Joan Eardley’s niece Anne Morrison-Hudson for her great help with this article.

Click here to view Joan Eardley's available work and click here to purchase publications.

In this film by National Galleries Scotland, local Catterline resident Ron Stephen, and former Curator Fiona Pearson discuss Eardley’s relationship with the village.

More News