Joan Eardley was born in Bailing Hill Farm, nr. Warnham, Sussex, 18 May 1921 but is considered Scottish having moved there in 1939. She studied at The Glasgow School of Art under #JamesCowie; who perhaps helped to shape her preference for subjects drawn from everyday experience, but her approach was more earthy and sensuous than his. She divided her time between Glasgow (where she painted kitchen sink subjects) and the fishing village of Catterline, about 20 miles south of Aberdeen on the north-east coast.
Her artistic career had three distinct phases. The first was from 1940 when she enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art through to 1949 when she had a successful exhibition of paintings created while travelling in Italy. From 1950 to 1957, Eardley’s work focused on the Townhead slums of city of Glasgow recording the last days of the tenement life, in particular the children playing in the streets who often asked to be painted by her. She was drawn to subjects of delapidation in the bomb damaged city. In the late 1950s, while still living in Glasgow, she spent much time in Catterline and rented a cottage there in 1954 before moving there permanently in 1961.
Her favourite subjects in her later years were the village and the sea, especially in stormy weather (she is said to have set off from her Glasgow home as soon as she heard reports of gales). Her freely painted, often bleak, desolate landscapes are among the most powerful in British 20th century art. Murdo Macdonald said of Eardley’s Catterline seascapes: ‘She committed herself to understanding the sea more than any other painter since #WilliamMcTaggart in the 1890s. Rather than just responding to the attraction of the coastline, she painted with the perception of a mariner aware that waves are heavy, fast moving lumps of water, as able to kill as to support.’
She died at the age of 42 in 1963 from breast cancer her ashes were scattered on the beach at Catterline just two years after moving there.