Working life | Victoria Irvine - Museums Association

Working life | Victoria Irvine

Celebrating the centenary of Joan Eardley’s birth
Artists Feminism
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Art curator Victoria Irvine undertaking research to mark the centenary of Glasgow artist Joan Eardley
Art curator Victoria Irvine undertaking research to mark the centenary of Glasgow artist Joan Eardley
This year is the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley – can you tell us about the artist and her work?

Joan Eardley (1921-1963) is one of Scotland’s most significant 20th-century artists. A graduate of Glasgow School of Art, Eardley’s paintings and sketches of children from the “slum” Townhead area of Glasgow marked her place within the British artistic avant garde. She kept a studio in Townhead from 1949, as she felt that knowing her subjects was the only way to paint them with truth.

In contrast to urban views, Eardley started painting landscapes of Catterline, in north-east Scotland, from 1951. She would often strap down her canvas in the face of storms, producing expansive and expressionist views of the sky, sea and cliffs. Eardley’s work was recognised in her time as vital and, as a postwar woman artist, her impact in Scotland still resonates.

Boy on Stool, by Joan Eardley © Eardley Estate
How is the Scottish Women and the Arts Network celebrating the centenary and what is your role in it?

The network was established to uncover and share the stories of women artists, designers and makers, and collectors in Scottish collections. In the absence of any major single event to mark Eardley’s centenary, members of the network felt passionately about commemorating her life and work throughout 2021.

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The participating institutions include Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow School of Art, The Hunterian, Glasgow Museums, National Galleries of Scotland and Gracefield Arts Centre. Each institution will mount its own celebrations, including in-house and virtual exhibitions, programmed events and activities, publications and a symposium.

Aspects of Eardley’s life and work will be examined, from her friendship circles to technical analysis of her painting methods. As a member of the Scottish Women and the Arts Network and as an art curator at Paisley Museum, I am researching the Eardley works in the collection.

We hope to host specialist tours of Eardley’s work at our publicly accessible High Street store, the Secret Collection, and are devising a programme of activities and events.

Winter Stacks, by Joan Eardley © Eardley Estate
What are the strengths of Paisley Museum’s art collection?

The collection began in earnest in the late 19th century, after the museum opened in 1871. The collection benefited from gifts from local wealthy industrialists, and it is one of the largest municipal art collections in Scotland. It is dominated by the works of UK artists, with evidence of 19th-century contemporary collecting through representation of the work of the Glasgow Boys.

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What other projects are you working on?

I have the privilege of working as part of the Paisley Museum Re-Imagined project team, an ambitious £42m scheme that has cultural regeneration at its core. We believe in the power of museums to change lives. With Paisley Museum’s central location on the High Street, we will operate as a networked hub interlinked with other cultural institutions and businesses, and will extend our reach to different audiences.

Victoria Irvine is an art curator at Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire

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