When I first started blogging on www.gailsibley.com, I wrote a post about an artist I had recently discovered – Joan Eardley (1921-1963). I was blown away by her work and still am. Recently I borrowed a book on the artist via interlibrary loan. I could only keep the book for two weeks and I knew pretty quickly that really, I needed my own copy. So I treated myself! The book, Joan Eardley by Christopher Andreae, has arrived and now I want to share with you some of Joan Eardley’s powerful pastels reproduced in the book.
Born in Sussex in 1921 to an English father and a Scottish mother, Joan spent her childhood in England but lived most of the remainder of her life in Scotland after the family moved there to escape the bombing in London in WWII. (Her father had taken his life earlier; he never got over being gassed in the trenches during the First World War.) In 1940, Joan enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA).
After her successful studies (she won a prize for her one and only self-portrait), war work with a boat builder, further studies at GSA followed by a trip to Italy on a travelling scholarship, Joan set up a studio in the tenement area of Glasgow in 1949. There she painted the local children. It was her drawings and paintings of these slum children that brought her recognition initially even though it is the work of wind and sea from her Catterline studio for she is most well-known. Below are a few of the pastels she created of the tenement kids she came to know.
Joan Eardley, “Boy Leaning Against a Wall,” c.1955-59, pastel on paper, 6 3/4 x 4 1/4 in, Private Collection. One of the earliest pastels of the children I could find.
Joan Eardley, “Little Glasgow Girl,” c.1958, pastel, 18 7/8 x 13 3/4 in, Private Collection
Eardley continued to paint children throughout her life (which was sadly cut short by cancer in 1963 when she was only 42 years old). In a BBC interview in January 1963, she said, “…the [children] that I want to paint I try to get them to stay still but it’s not really possible to get a child to stay very still –mostly I just watch them moving about, and do the best I can.” (pg19-20)
Joan Eardley, “Little Girl and Comic,” c.1958-62, pastel, 6 7/8 x 6 5/8 in, Private Collection. I love the way the child’s right hand is barely indicated. I can just imagine Eardley trying to capture a moving target!!
Local children in Joan Eardley’s Townhead studio, Glasgow. Dumfriesshire Educational Trust, Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries. (I have seen the photo credited to both Eardley herself and to Audrey Walker so I am not sure who took it.) I can hardly imagine having kids roaming about in my studio! You can see Eardley’s primary easel in the background.
You can see her sympathy for these children of poverty. Yet there’s certainly no sentimentality evident. She paints them as she sees them, all grubby and yet with the charm of children.
Joan Eardley, “Two Children (Boys),” c.1959-62, pastel on sandpaper, 11 5/8 x 9 5/8 in, Lillie Art Gallery, East Dunbartonshire Council. Apparently Joan’s favourite models in Townhead were the Samson children and these boys may have been two of the twelve or so offspring.
Joan Eardley, “Girl with a Baby,” c.1962, pastel on sandpaper, 10 5/8 x 8 3/4 in, Private Collection
Joan Eardley, “Sleeping Child,” c.1962, pastel on sandpaper, 8 5/8 x 10 3/4 in, Private Collection. Asleep but still moving probably!
Joan Eardley drawing a child. Photo by Audrey Walker. I love love this photo. It really gives the sense of Eardley attempting to capture the vitality of this child who seems to be having a marvellous time! It also exudes warmth and connection between Eardley and the child. You can imagine she had this relationship with all the kids she was capturing in her artwork.
Joan Eardley, “Wee Boy with a Green Cardigan,” c.1961-63, pastel, 11 3/8 x 8 7/8 in, Private Collection
Joan Eardley, “Girl in Orange Jumper,” c.1961-62, Charcoal and pastel on paper, 8 7/8 x 5 5/8 in, Private Collection
You can feel the individuality of these children – they aren’t just a ‘type’. The more I look at this work, the more I feel that.
I like what Andreae says about these portraits: “…the Glasgow slum children. They are portraits not caricatures. She had too much rapport with them for such distortion. And direct, daily experience of them meant she knew them well and painted them in their world….They were..impoverished tenement children, and Joan studied and explored their community and their place in it with great concentration and poignancy. Nor for the most part, did she let sentimentalism sift sugar over her understanding of these kids. She knowingly celebrated the vibrant character of their burstingly energetic existence. She portrayed them with a kind of fond and tough sense of reality.” (p.127)
Photo of Joan Eardley in her Townhead studio. Photo Audrey Walker. I love this photo of Eardley surrounded by many of her pastels of the Glasgow kids. You can also see an oil painting to her right. As an aside, quite the studio don’t you think?? I won’t complain about mine!
And just to situate where these kids lived and where Eardley worked:
Joan Eardley, “Glasgow Tenement and Back Court,” c.1959-62, pastel on glasspaper (sandpaper), 8 7/8 x 10 5/8 in, Private Collection
Joan Eardley, “A Glasgow Tenement,” c.1959-62, pastel, 7 7/8 x 9 7/8 in, Private Collection
When I started this post, I was going to also include images of Eardley’s pastels of Catterline landscapes but I think I will leave those for another time.
To see more wonderful photographs of Joan Eardley, at work and in her milieu, click here then open the pdf. Also, to see a large selection of Eardley’s oil paintings, click here.
Photo by Joan Eardley of kids looking out a window. Can you see it as source material for two of the paintings on the National Galleries website?
What do you think of Eardley’s portrayals of the Glasgow slum children? Are you as taken with the directness and energetic interpretation in pastel as I am?
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Until next time, keep pastelling!
PS. The FABULOUS book I reference:
To buy in Canada click on image:
To buy in USA and international, click on image: