Joan Eardley (1921-63) was one of the most influential Scottish painters of her generation. Her output was formidable and her work constantly original. Her most famous paintings and drawings reflect urban life, particularly the children who lived near her studio in Glasgow, and the rural landscapes and seascapes painted in all weather conditions at Catterline, the small east coast fishing village where Joan lived until her early death aged 42.
Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley was born near Warnham, Sussex in 1921 the daughter of dairy farmers. Her younger sister, Patricia, was born in 1922 and died in 2013. Their father had been wounded in a gas attack in WW1 and subsequently suffered a mental breakdown and when Joan was nine he took his own life. In 1939 Joan’s mother, who was Scottish, moved with the two girls to Glasgow and in 1940 Joan enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art where she studied under Hugh Adam Crawford. In 1943 she was awarded a diploma in Drawing and Painting, and won the Sir James Guthrie Prize for Portraiture. After spending some time at Hospitalfield Art School studying under James Cowie she travelled on a scholarship to France and Italy.
Joan Eardley set up a studio in Glasgow near the deprived Townhead area, and she became well known for her sympathetic, but not sentimental, highly individual drawings and paintings of poor city children who were often seen playing in the streets in ragged clothes. See illustration: “Boy in a brown Jersey”.
In the early 1950s while convalescing Joan was taken to visit the coastal fishing village of Catterline, near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire where she started to spend part of each year and in the late 1950s the landscape and seascape at Catterline provided Joan with a powerful inspiration for some of her most dramatic and important works. She painted outside no matter the weather and her thickly textured paintings sometimes contained grains of sand and vegetation.
At the age of 41 Joan Eardley was diagnosed with breast cancer, which spread to her brain, but she refused treatment and sadly died in August 1963 at the very early age of just 42. Before her tragic untimely death her work was already widely acclaimed and since then she has been recognised as an artist of international importance.
Her work can be seen in numerous public collections included Glasgow Museums, National Galleries of Scotland and Tate Gallery, London.