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Joan Eardley R.S.A. (1921-1963)

The Sea and the Harbour

Joan Eardley was born in Warham, Sussex in 1921. She studied at Goldsmith's School of Art, London and later, when her family moved to Glasgow, at the Glasgow School of Art (1940-1943) under Hugh Adam Crawford. After three years spent working as a joiner's labourer, she spent the summer of 1947 studying under James Cowie at the Patrick Allen-Fraser School of Art, Hospitalfield. In 1948-1949 she was awarded travelling Scholarships by the Royal Scottish Academy and Glasgow School of Art which took her to France and Italy. The resulting work was shown at her first solo exhibition at Glasgow School of Art. On her return she set up studio in an old tenement in Glasgow and for the next few years painted the colourful street life of the local young children and the scullery interiors.

In 1951 she was introduced to the remote fishing village of Catterline on the North East Coast of Scotland. For the next decade she divided her time between Glasgow and Catterline, eventually acquiring a house and studio there. In Catterline it was the sea and land that were the inspiration for her paintings - the wild, windswept coastline and the fields and hedgerows above the cliffs. She painted throughout the different seasons, often outdoors, and in various weathers. The freely painted, often bleak and desolate works that resulted are among the most powerful and individual landscapes in 20th century British art.

Eardley's work was highly acclaimed by the time of her early death in 1963 at the age of just 42.

Her work can be found in the National Galleries of Scotland as well as many other galleries across the world. She became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1963, just before her death.

Oil on board
44 x 80 ins (111.8 x 203.2 cms)


With Roland, Browse and Delbanco
Corporate Collection, Yorkshire
With Duncan R. Miller Fine Arts, London
Collection of Elaine Grace

Royal Glasgow Institute 1961 no. 356
'Joan Eardley' Roland Browse and Delbanco, London 1963
'20th Century Scottish painting' Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal & subsequent tour in England by the Arts Council 1963
'Aspects of Twentieth Century Art', Duncan R. Miller Fine Arts,London,1977, catalogue no.44 (illustrated)

'Joan Eardley Memorial Exhibition' Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, Glasgow 1964 (ill. catalogue plate 21)

For Eardley, landscape painting was not a form of escapism, but a means of seeking out the unrestrained forces of the natural elements – tumultuous, phosphorescent seas; rain, sunlight and spume; the breaking of a huge, foaming wave against a leaden sky.

In 'The Sea and the Harbour' the elements appear in awesome force, in the suspense of a wall of water advancing, in the wild gestural brush marks that approach the abstract. Eardley’s underlying compassion for her subject matter is visible in the ardent textures of the painting, while the inclusion of the harbour fishing boats prevent the work from becoming entirely abstract, encouraging us to experience the reality of Eardley’s bleak but emotive North Sea.

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