Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)

25 Aug 2021

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI was born in Falkirk in 1931. She studied at ECA from 1949 until 1954 under Robert Henderson Blyth and William Gillies inter alia and earned travelling scholarships to southern Europe and Italy. In 1956 she married artist and fellow Scottish Gallery exhibitor John Houston and began teaching in Edinburgh. She taught at Edinburgh College of Art from 1962 until her retirement in 1986. One of Scotland's greatest artists, she also garners recognition and success in London. In 1972, Blackadder was elected member of the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh and in 1976 she gained entry at the Royal Academy, London - the first woman to be elected into both institutions. In 2001, Elizabeth was made the first female Artist Limner by HRH The Queen, a position within the Royal Household unique to Scotland. One decade later, in 2011 (the year she turned 80) a major retrospective of her work opened at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)
Elizabeth Blackadder, 1978

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder is perhaps best known for her detailed yet lyrical watercolours of flowers, 'table-top' compositions using Oriental objects and her beloved cats. Trips to Japan and Venice and a greater emphasis on oil can be seen in landscape and townscape pieces as well as important still life series using decorated tins and boxes arranged with exotic fish, fruit and vegetables.

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)
Flower Studies - Lilies, Pink Cistus, Vinca, Codonopsis, Acanthus and Kniphofia,1990-91, watercolour, 55 x 78 cm

I knew Elizabeth Blackadder all my life. ‘The Houstons’ moved from London Street to Queen’s Crescent in 1963 and I lived ‘over the park’ in McLaren Road. My father was a colleague of her and her husband John Houston's in the Drawing and Painting Department at The College (Edinburgh College of Art). A rather rough form of lawn tennis was played in the park, and John and Elizabeth were a formidable doubles partnership, emerging in their whites from their back gate. Grown-up parties came and went before I got to know Elizabeth as an adult when I started working in The Scottish Gallery in 1983 and it was my particular pleasure to work with her and John over many, many exhibitions. The arrangement was often made over a lunch at the Kweilin Chinese restaurant, over the road from the Gallery’s current location in Dundas Street, a simple confirmatory letter all the contract required.

Guy Peploe
Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)
Elizabeth Blackadder, A Fife Farm near Burntisland, c.1952, ink on paper, 33 x 45 cm

Her exhibitions were great events, normally held during The Festival and of huge importance to the Gallery, commercially and reputationally. In the latter years, particularly after John died in 2008, and when laterally illness robbed her of her ability to work, I continued to see her and continue representation, looking to fulfil the plans she and John had made for the future. She was a charming, rather other-worldly person, a kind woman with a unique talent whose legacy is her extraordinary oeuvre.

Guy Peploe
Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)
John Houston and Elizabeth Blackadder, 1945

I met Elizabeth Blackadder and her husband John Houston when I first started working at the gallery in 1997. They were both down to earth, friendly, astute, practical artists - immersed in the studio practice and ‘getting on with art’. Elizabeth was extremely shy and unassuming - she was happiest at home with John sharing a passion for their garden, cooking and working in their separate studios.

Christina Jansen
Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)
Elizabeth Blackadder, Purple Table with Orange Dish, oil on canvas, 102 x 111 cm

Elizabeth drew and painted every. She took inspiration from her home and garden and absorbed the world around her, taking pleasure in the simple things. By sheer talent rather than design she became an icon and her work is so much more than cats and flowers. Her retrospective at the RSA (in 2011) revealed an artist with an enigmatic eye for composition and conceptual mind. Her art is loved by a nation. Elizabeth Blackadder will be missed greatly.

Christina Jansen
Dame Elizabeth Blackadder DBE, RA, RSA, RSW, RGI (1931-2021)
Elizabeth Blackadder in her garden, 2010
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