Previously unpublished sketches and photographs are displayed alongside well-known works of art to poignantly capture the all-too-brief career of one of Scotland’s most celebrated artists.

Though it only spanned 15 years, Joan Eardley’s painting career was key in capturing life as she knew it in two contrasting Scottish locations: the slums of Townhead in Glasgow and the countryside of Catterline on the north-east coast.

Using previously unseen archival material donated by the artist’s sister, including preparatory sketches and photographic studies, this comprehensive exhibition traces her working methods through to the construction of some the nation’s most treasured compositions.

In contrast to her Scottish contemporaries who flocked to London, including Eduardo Paolozzi and Alan Davie, Eardley set up her studio in Glasgow in 1949 and began to document everyday scenes such as ragged children playing in the tenements of Townhead. The documentary nature of this phase is represented by the paintings’ titles – for example A Glasgow Lodging – and the fact that the area was bulldozed in the 1960s means that Eardley’s depictions offer a moving insight into the conditions of poverty.

From the early 1950s, Eardley spent increasing amounts of time in the fishing village of Catterline, capturing pastoral scenes of fields and cottages and atmospheric seascapes. During this time, she cited Jackson Pollock among her influences and her work shifts to become considerably more abstract – nowhere more so than where the sea and sky crash together in the series of pastel works entitled Approaching Storms.

Tragically, Eardley’s health began to fail as she started to earn considerable recognition. The year of her death in 1963 also saw her appointment as a member of the Royal Scottish Academy and the success of a solo exhibition in London. Having recently opened, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was able to acquire many of the artist’s most admired paintings from this period, including Children and Chalked Wall.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

73/75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH4 3DR

0131 624 6200


Opening times

Mon – Sun, 10am – 5pm Closed 25 & 26 Dec
(August - Mon – Sun, 10am – 6pm)

Free to all

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