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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Joan Eardley @ Milngavie: Price? Far above rubies

Joan Eardley at her easel in Catterline

I wrote about the Joan Eardley Drawings exhibition at Milngavie's Lilie Art Gallery in Saturday's Herald (galleries round-up of the Arts supplement).

Usually I put all three reviews/previews on one posting, but the reason I've syphoned this off from the main body of the kirk is that after filing the copy last week, I dropped in to see the exhibition, which is local to me.

I'm familiar with the Joan Eardley Drawings exhibition as this is the third year it has been mounted at The Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie. For me, it's a visual and mental treat just to sit in among it and look. The Lillie's Eardley collection was gifted by the artist's family, who live locally. 

What I hadn't appreciated when I wrote the piece below was that there are new drawings on show this year for the first time. And, of course, there is the big oil painting, Flood Tide.

Looking at the work was a bittersweet experience as I had read recently in the local newspaper that the gallery was losing its hard-working, committed and uber-experienced curator, Hildegarde Berwick. Hildegarde's post is going, as part of an across-the-board series of cuts which East Dunbartonshire Council is making. Or to be more precise, the newly formed East Dunbartonshire Leisure & Culture Trust, is making.

It's a depressingly common story these days. When education, health and roads budgets are being slashed, why should culture not take a hit too?

I believe Hildegarde had to go through the process of 'reapplying' for her job, or at any rate a new merged position of museums/galleries development officer. She was interviewed alongside the curator of the Auld Kirk Museum in Kirkintilloch and he got the gig. All power to his elbow. It's a big job which somebody has to do.

Now, I'm just an observer here, but it troubles me that East Dunbartonshire Council has in its possession a collection of international significance in the shape of the Joan Eardley Collection as well as a significant collection of work by major Scottish artists. Now it doesn't even have a dedicated curator to look after and cherish it for the nation. Its 50th birthday celebrations in 2012 will, I fear, be a fairly flat affair.

Hildegarde's role included much, much more than minding the Joan Eardley collection. I've always been struck by how thoughtful and well-curated the varied programme of exhibitions is in Milngavie.

It's also a place where the young people of the area have been going for years to make art at the Saturday morning and holiday classes. There's a joyful exhibition of work by these young people on show at the moment.

This Joan Eardley collection at Milngavie has a price which is far beyond rubies. In fact, I'd say it was priceless. In hard and fast monetary terms, the art market would cut off its right arm to be presented with such a body of work for sale.

Since the Joan Eardley retrospective four years ago at the National Gallery of Scotland, interest in her work has soared, alongside prices. The work is relatively scarce, partly because she died so young and partly because people are holding on to their Joan Eardleys if they have them! Personally, if I had one, I'd never let it go.

On May 26, Christies in London is auctioning four original Joan Eardley works. 

Each one has been with the current owner(s) since the early 1960s.One, Boats and the Harbour – an oil painting which was exhibited at the RSA in the year of Joan Eardley's death (1963) was purchased for just £300.

Today Christies are looking for between £100k and £150k.

Boats and The Harbour by Joan Eardley

The Yellow Jumper, one of her famous paintings of Glasgow street kids from the 1950s and 60s has the same pricetag. Who knows what they will go for. It was bought by the current owner at the 1964 Festival Exhibition in Aitken Dott (now the Scottish Gallery) for just £210.

The Yellow Jumper by Joan Eardley 

The owners of these works have had them in their possession for nearly 50 years. No doubt they love them and cherish them but now, they will undoubtedly go back into private ownership.

The beauty of work by great artists such as Joan Eardley being in public collections is that we can all feel that we have ownership. We can see them and feel their power. 

From a personal point of view, I've had the experience of going into the Lilie Art Gallery and feeling that I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Last year, I sat staring at Joan Eardley's blackened, raging sky in of her small drawings and I felt I wasn't alone. Great art has the power to move and unite. To make you feel you're not alone.

When a nation battens down the hatches and gets through troubled economic times, shouldn't art, music and literature take centre stage?

What do I know... 

Here's what I wrote in Saturday's Herald.

Lillie Art Gallery
Station Road, Milngavie
0141 587 8847
Until May 25
This is the third year that the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie has presented a selection from its Joan Eardley collection, which was gifted by the artist’s family following her untimely death in 1963.
Any opportunity to view the work of Eardley, one of Scotland’s most influential painters of recent times, is to be grabbed with both hands. Significantly, this exhibition coincides with what would have been her 90th birthday on May 18.
Primarily focusing on her drawings, Eardley’s late seascape, Flood Tide, is also included in the line-up this year.
Eardley painted this trance-inducing work in oil in her spiritual home, the tiny north east fishing village of Catterline, just a year before she died at the age of 42. 
In 2005, readers of The Herald voted it as one of the nation’s favourite paintings and the late makar Edwin Morgan, a long-term admirer and collector of Eardley’s work, was moved to write a poem in its honour.
As was her wont, Eardley painted Flood Tide out of doors and it portrays a brooding, grey sky towering over and in among a stormy sea crashing onto Catterline’s shoreline.
As Morgan pins down, Eardley’s free spirit is the key to this wonderful work of art:
Part of a field more human than the one
That took the gale and is now
As she is, beyond the sun.
The exhibition includes 26 pastel as well as pencil sketches by Eardley. Also on show are photographs and a letter to Milngavie Art Club. The artist joined Milngavie Art Club during the 1950s and exhibited with it until her death.
This Friday (May 13) at 7.30pm, Joan Hughson of the Hughson Gallery will give a talk at the gallery, focusing on the connections between the early work of Joan Eardley and her lifelong friend, the Bearsden-based artist Margot Sandeman.

Flood Tide, by Joan Eardley, 1962
Oil on Board
Lillie Gallery, East Dunbartonshire Council

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