Joan Eardley is another 20th century woman artist who deserves to be much better known. Her work stands with the very best in that wondrous space between the figurative and the abstract.
She moved from London to Scotland at the age of 19 and died in her beloved village of Catterline, just south of Aberdeen, in 1963. She was only 41 years old. She spent time in both Paris and Venice, but her seascapes and landscapes, and her paintings of children, are closely associated with Scotland.
This blog post is not a detailed biography, or even a representative sample of her work. I just hope that readers will delve into books and websites to appreciate the brilliance of her painting, her passion and her profound ability to convey the essence of what she experienced. And, of course, to go beyond the image on the page or the screen and seek out the originals.
Joan Eardley was known for her commitment to immersion in the subjects of her paintings. Her greatest love was the sea, and especially the sea in winter. She would find ways to carry on painting in the wildest weather and sometimes in physical pain, often to the concern of friends and neighbours.
Joan seems to have been a turbulent mixture of vulnerability and toughness. In 2013 a tribute to her by Audrey Walker, her most consistent friend and lover, was released into the public domain. Walker describes the “two Joans” very eloquently, and her words sum up the energy, movement and driven beauty of the paintings:
“I have always used the term ‘compulsive painter’ of Joan…she was that before all else. And as she used to say ‘If I couldn’t paint, it wouldn’t be me and I could not live’…to me she was, quite simply, the winter sea, to which and for which I would give my life”.
Perhaps it was the blend of vulnerable and tough that allowed Joan Eardley to produce her magnificent body of paintings of Glasgow street children. The empathy, humour, resilience, and tragic inevitability are all there, and without sentimentality.
After Eardley’s depictions most paintings about childhood look bland and insubstantial. These are just two examples from a rich trove.
The header for this post is taken from Terence Mullaly’s comment that in Eardley’s work “nature is closely observed yet passionately rendered”. I like the semi-paradox contained in the phrase ‘passionately rendered’. She combines love of detail with a controlled wildness of expression. Her work has strength and vigour, but is also accurate in its emotional intelligence.
Thank you for your passionate rendering, Joan.
For the full text of Audrey Walker’s thoughts on Joan Eardley (all their letters were destroyed) see Christopher Andreae’s Joan Eardley (Lund Humphries 2013). It is heartening to see that two new books on Eardley are due for publication before the end of this year.