Joan Eardley letters show relationship with woman

A NEW biography of one of Scotland’s best-known female artists has lifted the lid on her long-time relationship with another woman – 50 years after her death.

Intimate letters written by Glasgow artist Joan Eardley to married photographer Audrey Walker have emerged after the lifting of an embargo.

The pair met in the city, where Ms Eardley studied at Glasgow School of Art, in 1952 and remained close up until the artist’s death at the age of just 42 from breast cancer in 1963.

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Christopher Andreae, the author of the book, titled Joan Eardley, said the “love letters” effectively end long-held speculation about Ms Eardley’s sexuality.

The new book is billed as the most comprehensive assessment to date of an artist widely regarded as one of the most influential painters of her generation.

Born in 1921, she is perhaps best remembered for her vivid depictions of youngsters in the deprived Glasgow suburb of Townhead, where she had a studio, and of the nearby shipyards at Port Glasgow.

The book is being released to coincide with two forthcoming exhibitions of the artist’s work in London and Edinburgh.

Mrs Walker, who was married to a Glasgow sheriff, kept many of the letters that she was sent by the artist while the latter was living in the fishing village of Catterline, in Aberdeenshire,.

Although no letters from Mrs Walker to Ms Eardley survived, the book does feature a moving tribute she paid to the artist after her death, which she insisted should not be published until after she had passed away herself. Mrs Walker died in her native Dumfries in 1996.

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The pair would meet up regularly in Catterline, where Ms Eardley would pose for photographs for her companion, many of which are featured in the new book.

In one of the letters to the photographer, Ms Eardley states: “I just feel I love you so much – and there just ain’t words – to say it – not words that mean what I feel inside of me – and there’s nothing else that I really want to say – nothing at all...”

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In another letter, she says: “Can you wait until the middle of next week for me to come back? Can I? That’s also to be thought about.”

In her own tribute, Mrs Walker writes: “If anyone ever has a mind to write, many years from now, a book dealing with Joan the person, as well as Eardley the Painter, I feel somehow they should have, sort of germinating in some remote corner of their mind, the conception of the whole Joan.”

Mr Andreae, who said he had spent several years compiling the book, told The Scotsman: “I would say the letters from Joan to Audrey are affectionate, sweet, gentle and very intimate. They indicate a very close friendship indeed and I think it’s very obvious that she was in love with this woman. It is also clear from the tribute from Audrey that she very much worshipped Joan.

“I think their relationship would have been known to Joan’s close friends, but it’s never been written about at all. The letters were embargoed by Audrey until long after her death.”

Guy Peploe, director of the Scottish Gallery, hosting an exhibition of Ms Eardley’s work from 3-27 April, said: “She’s up there in terms of the female artists Scotland produced.”