Joan Eardley’s Catterline Reopens Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Joan Eardley, Snow (detail) 1958, oil on board
Joan Eardley, 'Snow' (detail) 1958, oil on board

Joan Eardley & Catterline

Sun - Tue, 10:00 - 17:00, advance booking required

From: 16 May 2021

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Modern One
75 Belford Road
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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Galleries across Scotland are celebrating the centenary of one of Scotland’s most respected and popular mid-20th Century artists. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art celebrated its re-opening of Modern One on 16th May with Joan Eardley & Catterline. This small exhibition packs a punch with two dedicated rooms marking the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley. Nine oil paintings are accompanied by several works on paper and a selection of photographs and archival materials all from the national permanent collection.

Joan Eardley (1921 – 1963) emerged as a talented artist in post-war Scotland and finding some inspiration in the international avant-garde post-war abstraction art. In her lifetime, she was widely regarded as an influential British painter. Although much-loved and respected, this artist’s short life and career can seem overlooked at times. This 100-year anniversary celebration was arranged collaboratively through the Scottish Women and the Arts Research Network following a call to action to publicly mark the year.

Joan Eardley, Catterline in Winter, 1963, oil on hardboard
Joan Eardley, ‘Catterline in Winter’, 1963, oil on hardboard

Joan Eardley & Catterline offers a chance to really dive into a particular aspect of her working practice which produced the distinctive style of her Catterline artworks. Here we can scrutinise some of Eardley’s most familiar and loved paintings, Catterline in Winter (1963), Summer Fields (c. 1961) and Snow (1958). Even if you aren’t familiar with Eardley you may have seen one of these. Each artwork is accompanied by a short text offering some context into her life, her techniques, or an interesting note on that particular piece. Don’t miss out on the drawings and two display cabinets with photos and letters related to Catterline.

Joan Eardley, The Sea at Catterline c.1960-3, pastel on two sheets of paper
Joan Eardley, ‘The Sea at Catterline’, c.1960-3, pastel on two sheets of paper

It’s no surprise that Eardley captured the essence of the rugged seascape of this northeast coastal village near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. In 1955, Eardley bought her own place at Number 1, The Row, in Catterline. In 1959, she upgraded to Number 18, which had electricity and water and faced the sea. As she tackled the expanse of sea and sky in Catterline, her artworks became larger.

Inspired by her immediate surroundings, Eardley made powerful and expressive paintings of everyday subjects, including Scottish coastal scenes. It’s in these works that we see those intense details of layers and textures that can only really be appreciated in person or up-close. Explore the surprising textures of Flowers (c. 1962). Find wonder in the sensitive detail coming through the loosest and thickest of paint application in Boats on the Shore (c. 1963). Appreciate luminescent colour flashes under a veil of a sludge-grey sky in Snow (1958). Inspect the application of grass seed and stalks directly into the paint in Seeded Grasses and Daisies (1960).

Joan Eardley, Boats on the Shore (detail) c.1963, oil on hardboard
Joan Eardley, ‘Boats on the Shore’ (detail), c.1963, oil on hardboard
Joan Eardley, Seeded Grasses and Daisies (detail), 1960, oil on hardboard with grass stalks and seed heads
Joan Eardley, ‘Seeded Grasses and Daisies’ (detail), 1960, oil on hardboard with grass stalks and seed heads

A fascinating addition to this exhibition is the map of Catterline, marked with locations where Eardley would have stood to draw and paint her subjects outside. Although her paintings have a loose, expressive character, they were accurate in detail – Catterline locals could recognise the scene and a specific viewpoint almost immediately.

It was a common sight to see her out in stormy weather, battling the elements, painting onto massive boards and sometimes having to tether her own body to keep from blowing over in a storm. She was known to take a train from Glasgow to Stonehaven if she caught warning of a storm brewing in Catterline. From there she would pick up her Lambretta scooter and race off to the village. After Joan Eardley died on 16 August 1963, aged just 42, her ashes were scattered on the beach at Catterline.

Joan Eardley, ‘Seascape (Foam and Blue Sky)’, 1962, oil on board

National Galleries of Scotland has produced a series of podcasts in which broadcaster and artist Lachlan Goudie will be joined by figures from the art world and beyond. Each episode will be available for free on the National Galleries Scotland website.

As well as this free Joan Eardley exhibition, there is a chance to view some favourites from the permanent collection – some of which have not been on display for a while. There is a strict one-way route around the gallery with a limit on the number of people and check-in on arrival. 

With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review. Please visit Artmag’s post about exhibition and events marking the artist’s 100th anniversary (social media #eardley100), and our review of Fine Art Society’s tribute, by Vivien Devlin.

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