2021 will mark the centenary of Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley’s birth. Joan Eardley is a celebrated British 20th Century artist, known for her moving portraits of children on the streets of Glasgow and expressive seascapes in Catterline. She embraced the hardships of a Post-War Britain and documented this disappearing world.
Born in Sussex, Eardley moved to Glasgow at the beginning of the Second World War and subsequently enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art where her artistic career began. It was a strange time at the School of Art, with students disappearing to enlist, however Joan built some lasting relationships with her peers and tutors. Eardley was inspired by the Scottish Colourists, a post-impressionist movement, and inspirations of their colours and bold compositions can be seen throughout her career.
As Eardley began to gain some recognition, she received a scholarship from the Royal Scottish Academy and Glasgow School of Art in 1948 which enabled her to travel to Italy. While not much from her trip survives, she was fascinated by the colours of the Renaissance Frescos, and scenes they depicted. However, instead of turning to the architecture and Renaissance Grandiosity that Italy is known for as a subject, Joan drew beggars in charcoal and pastel – a subject she would return to and develop further.
The Pedlar's Stand
Upon returning to Glasgow, Eardley lived in a crowded area, Townhead, which was due to be demolished. Eardley enjoyed the community comradery and street scenes, going on to draw one of her more famous subjects – children of the Glasgow Streets. Despite depicting poverty and a post-war backdrop, the children of Joan’s works feature brightly coloured clothes, and curious rosy faces, scenes soon to be lost to demolition. The images portray no illusion of a bright and easy life; however, they highlight the unseen faces that lined the graffiti filled streets in raw but tender mixed media works.
While she is well known for her street children, Eardley turned to more natural surroundings in the later stages of her career. Catterline is a small coastal village on the North West Coast of Scotland. The harsh weather and rural lifestyle would have driven many away, however Eardley embraced the sea air, rough winds and changing landscape. Eardley regularly visited Catterline before moving there permanently in 1961. Living high on the cliff face Eardley became obsessed with the sea, producing many paintings of the same view but in different conditions and seasons. Joan was not afraid to work out in the wet and cold, and vegetation often found its way into her expressive paintings. Joan enjoyed the Catterline seascape until her unfortunate early death in August 1963 from breast cancer. Her ashes were appropriately scattered on Catterline Beach.
Joan Eardley’s work is very much influenced by her surroundings. Her pastel and charcoal portraits are instantly recognisable, and her landscapes hold the same raw feel as her street portraits, but with an expressive, impasto twist. There is an honesty and tactility which makes an Eardley work instantly recognisable. Joan found beauty in the every-day, in the overlooked, and she shines a light on these scenes like no other.