Scottish National Gallery reveals unknown Joan Eardley works

They would sit patiently for hours in her studio, glad of the warmth from the stove, and looking forward to the treacle sandwiches that were usually offered up as a treat.
The Samson sisters Mary McDonald and Pat McLean were enjoyed seeing Joan Eardleys work. Picture: Neil HannaThe Samson sisters Mary McDonald and Pat McLean were enjoyed seeing Joan Eardleys work. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Samson sisters Mary McDonald and Pat McLean were enjoyed seeing Joan Eardleys work. Picture: Neil Hanna

Little did the children of the Samson family know that the creations made by the artist who had to regularly persuade them to “sit at peace” would become some of Scotland’s most iconic paintings.

Those same sitters were reunited with those paintings yesterday – along with a host of previously unseen work by Joan Eardley, which has been revealed more than half a century after her death.

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The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh is displaying dozens of “unpublished and largely unknown” drawings, sketches and photographs as part of what is believed to be the most extensive show to date charting her life and career.

They are seeing the light of day in a new exhibition, which will run from tomorrow until May, three decades after they were donated by her sister Pat.

The gallery says the previously unseen material will allow visitors an “unprecedented opportunity” to trace the transition of her early work “from initial conception to the finished article”,

Born in Sussex in 1921, Eardley studied at Glasgow School of Art and is best known for the portraits of youngsters growing up in the dilapidated Townhead district of the city.

Most of them were of the Samson family of 12 children, who for several years would sit for her after she moved into a studio in Townhead in 1953.

Her career was cut short a decade later when she died of breast cancer at the age of only 43 but her body of work would go on to have a lasting impact on Scotland’s art word.

Sisters Mary McDonald and Pat McLean, who were often painted together by Eardley, were among the Samson family members to attend a preview of the show yesterday.

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The exhibition features detailed maps of both Townhead and Catterline, which pinpoint the locations depicted in Eardley’s work, although the Glasgow tenements were knocked down in the 1960s.

Mrs McDonald said: “My first memories of Joan were when she would come down the street with her easel to sketch the children playing in the street at Rottenrow.

“She asked my mother if we could come up to the studio. She didn’t really know Joan at all so she came with us the first time, but after that it was like going up to your aunty’s. We used to run up there every other day.

“With some paintings you would be sitting for them for two weeks. We would maybe be in there for five hours.

“If it was the summer holidays she would come and look for us to get the paintings finished. But if it was raining it was somewhere to get out of the cold. She used to have an old round stove the heat came out of.”

Mrs Mclean added: “I think it all started when my brother went up to her studio and asked her: ‘do you want to paint me, missus?’

“We would go up there most days and she would keep our clothes up there that she would paint us in. It was really great, but if we got fidgety she would say: ‘stand at peace, stand at peace.’

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“My ma’ became very friendly with her. Since she had 12 kids she was always trying to get rid of a few of us!

“We really were poor, but I have a lot of happy memories. I feel really emotional when 
I go back. I just stand there greetin’.”

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