Joan Eardley

Salmon Nets 1 (1961-3)by Joan Eardley

While we were last up at Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal a couple of paintings included in the display of works from the Gallery’s own collection on the first floor took my eye. The Gallery have a large collection but limited space so they only have a limited number of works on display at any one time, which change from time to time. I couldn’t recall seeing these particular paintings previously, so had a closer look. They reminded me a little of the work of the Irish artist, Camille Souter, whose paintings I’ve seen during my visits to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

It turned out that they were paintings by Joan Eardley a 20th Century artist,
s born on 18 May 1921 in Sussex but whose family moved to the Glasgow suburb of Bearsden in 1940 when she was 19. She enrolled at Glasgow School of Art the same year.

She became known for her portraits of local children near her studio in Glasgow. In the late 1950’s she started to visit the Scottish seaside village of Catterline, in Aberdeenshire, moving there permanently in 1961, where she painted seascapes and landscapes. The Abbot Hall paintings are from that period.

According to the National Galleries of Scotland website she was

one of Scotland’s most popular twentieth century artists. Her powerful and expressive paintings transformed her everyday surroundings, including the rugged Scottish coastline and Glasgow’s street children. During her lifetime she was considered a member of the post war British avant-garde, who portrayed the realities of life in the mid-twentieth century.

She became well known for her work in Scotland and probably would have become more widely recognised but died in 1963 from breast cancer when she was only 42.

The Cornfield (1962) by Joan Eardley

There’s a good article about her life and work on the National Galleries Scotland website and also here.

The two Abbot hall paintings, although figurative, have a strong abstract quality to them. Apparently, she liked to paint outdoors, working quickly to capture the changing light and conditions, in all sorts of weather, and would sometimes add vegetation to her thickly textured paint.

It’s always good to discover the work of an artist I’ve not really come across before during a gallery visit. And I’ll certainly be trying to find out more about Joan Eardley and her work.

“Taking Flight” at Abbot Hall

I’ve been looking forward to the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall focusing on 5 artists from the St Ives school. We went up to Kendal on Saturday to see it and I wasn’t disappointed.

Abbot Hall’s website

The show will concentrate on five ‘middle generation’ (or, more accurately, second generation) St Ives artists who used light, space and colour to create dazzling paintings of huge power and presence.

These artists are Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Bryan Winter and Peter Lanyon. All five produced abstract works and were influenced by the landscape and human environment in and around St Ives. But their individual styles and approaches were quite different and distinctive. They are less well known than the major “stars” of the St Ives school – Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth – but there are usually a sample of their paintings in most Modern Art galleries which have a collection featuring works from St Ives artists. But this was a chance to see a larger number of works from these five artists.

Patrick Heron was born in Leeds but his family moved to Cornwall as a boy, so he grew up there. His paintings are typically composed of large areas of bright colour. This one is very typical

Patrick Heron, Red Painting October 1959, 1959

Red Painting (1959) by Patrick Heron

He is also known for his paintings composed of horizontal bands of colour

Patrick Heron ‘Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958’, 1957–8 © The estate of Patrick Heron

Horizontal Stripe Painting (November 1957 – January 1958) Patrick Heron (Picture source: Tate website)

There are stripes in some of Terry Frost’s paintings. Vertical in this case, less colurful and only one element in the composition.

Terry Frost, Straw and Purple Visage, 1958

Straw and purple visage (1959) by Terry Frost

The paintings by Bryan Winter on display were similar and typical of those of his works I’ve seen previously. Complicated patterns of colourful squiggles.

Bryan Wynter, Torrid Zone Region, 1958

Torrid Zone Region (1958) Bryan Winter

Peter Lanyon was the only native-born Cornishman of the post-war St Ives group of artists and used to claim that this gave him a connection with the landscape that the other members of the St Ives school could only aspire to.

I haven’t particularly likes paintings by Lanyon I’ve seen previously. They have tended to be painted in dark, muddy colours which is not to my taste. The Yellow Runner on display at Abbot Hall is typical of this. The sky is a pale blue and the figure of the running horse on the hillside that gives the painting its name is bright yellow. And although there is a splash of yellow and white a good two thirds of the painting is composed of dark, muddy colours which merge into each other and make it difficult to see the shapes and structure of the composition.

Peter Lanyon, The Yellow Runner, 1946

The yellow runner (1946) Peter Lanyon

However, with a significant number of Lanyon’s paintings included in the exhibition I could see that this wasn’t the case with many of his works. He used brighter colours and strong blues to represent the landscape and the sea.

I particularly liked his Sky Deep

Shy Deep (1959) by Peter Lanyon (Picture source: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

and Silent Coast

I also learned that Lanyon had been influenced by Nuam Gabo, who was friends with Nicholson and Hepworth and had spent  some time in St Ives. There were examples of Lanyon’s constructivist sculptures included in the exhibition

Peter Lanyon Porthleven Boats

Porthleven boats (1950-1) Peter Lanyon (Picture source:Tate website)

By being able to see a good selection of Lanyon’s works all together I was able to appreciate just why Lanyon is considered to have been a major talent. The Courtauld in London are going to be holding an exhibition in London this autumn featuring15 major paintings by Lanyon from public and private collections. This, no doubt, will bring him more attention. On the basis of what I saw in Kendal, I certainly intent to try to see it.

Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology

Boyle Family: the Barcelona Site, World Series Artists tend to be solitary creatures but, in reality, many works of art require collaboration and team work. The named artist has the inspiration and designs the work, but often they are supported by “assistants” and others to create the work. This is certainly the case with sculptures where larger works would remain as ideas or small maquettes without the support of assistants (usually skilled artists themselves) and,  artisan craftsmen (e.g. specialist foundries). These people who are vital to the creation of the work remain anonymous wile the headline artist laps up the fame and glory. The Boyle Family are an exception to this in that they really are a family – parents and children – who work as a collective. Their website gives details on how this evolved. They are particularly well known for their recreations of random squares of ground, realistically recreated from fibreglass together with sand, stones, bits of metal and other objects representative of the setting. Abbot Hall are currently showing a selection of their works in the exhibition – Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology. The main focus of the exhibition are works created for The World Series Lazio Site, from 2013, the most recent of their on-going World Series project. It includes

earth studies, electron microphotographs and video that provide a compelling and arresting visual record of the surface of the land, the plant life, insect life and the presence of the artists themselves. Accompanying this work will be earth studies from the previous decade, including the first public showing of their Coral Quarry Triptych from 2001-2

Their landscape works are incredible in the detail and look so real. Looking at the comments in the guest book for the exhibition it’s quite clear that I’m not the only person who wants to touch them (forbidden, of course!). This is a reproduction of a rusting metal plate

Boyle Family, Study of Rusting Metal Plate, 2001-2

and this is an example of one of their works featuring a section of beach. Boyle Family, Coral Quarry Triptych (3 of 3), 2001-2

There’s a tremendous amount of detail too which illustrates just how much we don’t “see” when we look at the ground. Taken in isolation and divorced from their location and environment we can really start to observe how much there is to see. These works are realistic  – but taken out of their environmental context they’re like abstract patterns. Their work concentrates on the landscape,but not just that of the Earth. They also explore the biological landscape – plants, animals and humans. To do this they use electron micrographs – massively enlarged pictures of insects, plants and human hairs and cells that reveal complex and interesting forms and patterns otherwise invisible to the human eye. There were some examples in the exhibition. I found them fascinating – like their geographical works they are, to me, at the interface of art and science. Given my scientific education, work and interests in both of CP Snow’s “two cultures”. CA full “catalogue” of the works shown from the Lazio site can be viewed here. There was a documentary showing on a loop. It provided good background and context to their work and was well worth watching. Mark Boyle, the father, who died in 2005, was certainly a character. I couldn’t find a copy online but di locate a short video from their exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2010. Part of the TateShots Edinburgh Special, August 2010.

The Radev Collection at Abbot Hall

We drove up to Kendal last Saturday, the main reason being to visit  The Radev Collection: Bloomsbury & Beyond, the latest exhibition at the Abbot Hall gallery before it finishes at the end of this month.

The exhibition comprised a selection of paintings and other works from the Radev collection – a collection of 20th Century works accumulated over a number of years by three gay men who were associated with the Bloomsbury group.  From the Gallery’s website:

The Radev Collection is named after Mattei Radev, who came to Britain in the 1950’s as a stowaway on a cargo ship, fleeing from communism in his native Bulgaria. Radev went on to build a new life in London mixing in the artistic Bloomsbury circle and becoming a leading picture framer for the London Galleries.

Radev inherited most of the works from his friend the artist-dealer Eardley Knollys who had in turn inherited from music critic 5th Lord Sackville, Eddy Sackville-West following the latter’s’ death in 1965.

Abbot Hall is the last call for the exhibition which has already been shown in Chichester, Lincoln, Bath and Falmouth.

Quite a number of the works were by artists, many of them British, that I hadn’t come across before. But there were some were some works by more well known artists including prints by Picasso and Braque and paintings by Lucian Pissarro,  Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ben and. Winifred Nicholson, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  Although there were no “great” masterpieces, the standard of works on display was very high.  And it is always good to be introduced to artists I’ve not come across before.

These are a few of the works I particularly liked.

This abstract painting by the Russian Expressionist painter Alexej von Jawlensky, who worked in Germany and was a member of the Blue Rider group, was displayed in the first of the three rooms immediatly facing the door, so it was hard to miss. I’ve been reading up on German Expressionism lately so found it particularly interesting.

Blaue strasse

Blaue strasse c. 1916 by Alexei Jawlensky (1864 – 1941)

There were a couple of paintings by Winifred Nicholson. This simple, subdued painting of flowers on a window sill was my favourite.

Waking up

Waking up (c. 1954) by Winifred Nicholson

And there were a couple of paintings by the French painter Maurice Denis. He was, apparently, very religious and this is often reflected in his subject matter as in this painting.

Procession in Brittany

Procession in Brittany by Maurice Denis (1870 – 1943)

There was an original of the little dancer bronze by Henri Gaudier-Brezska, a copy of which we saw at Kettle’s Yard when we visited Cambridge in January 2012. It’s a lovely little work, beautifully posed. It was really nicely displayed- spot lit so it casted shadows behind it onto the walls – very effective. No photos allowed at Abbot Hall, but here’s a picture I took of the Little Dancer when we visited Kettle’s Yard.


The “discovery of the day” was an English painter  I’d not come across before, Adrian Ryan. There were a number of works by him on display, a couple of landscapes and a still life. The two landscapes, with their bright colours and swirly brushstrokes, very much reminded me of works by Van Gogh.

The canal at Moret-sur-Loing

The canal at Moret-sur-Loing (1948) Adrian Ryan (1920 – 1998)

All the works from the collection can be viewed on the website on a dedicated website here.

The title of the exhibition emphasised the connection of the three collectors with the so called “Bloomsbury set” of artists, writers and the like. But there isn’t a Bloomsbury style or school of art as such. The collection is simply representative of the type of art being produced in Britain and a few other countries at the time and that would have been popular with the type of people associated with the loose grouping of intellectuals. So a marketing ploy rather than a description of an artistic movement. But a good selection of works, nevertheless. And definitely worth the drive up the M6.

Lynn Chadwick at Abbot Hall and Blackwell

Last Saturday we headed up the M6 to visit the exhibition of works by Lynn Chadwick – Lynn Chadwick – Evolution of Sculpture – showing at the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal with some additional larger works from later in his careers being displayed at Backwell, The Arts and Crafts House, a few miles away near Windermere. Despite setting out reasonably early, the Motorway was still quite busy being the Bank Holiday and slowed to a standstill a couple of times, but only for a minute or so and we arrived in Kendal mid morning.

We really enjoyed the exhibition. I’ve seen a few pieces by Lynn Chadwick in other galleries (including the Hepworth at Wakefield) but here we were able to see how his work developed via a large number of pieces covering most of his career.

There were some particularly appealing pieces. His work was on the margins of abstract and figurative, many of his sculptures being based on humans and animals. In the entrance hall there were three beautiful life size abstract figures – the three Electras – cast in bronze, most of the surface had a heavy patina except for a square on the front – the breasts and naval – which was highly polished. It was a part of the casting, not a separate piece welded on. It was just the finish that was different. They were a dramatic introduction to the exhibition.

© Lakeland Arts Trust

The Three Electras by Lynn Chadwick (Picture source Abbot Hall website)

The main part of the exhibition was on the first floor. There was a good selection of works with some very interesting pieces including a mobile (he started out making these) weird, fantastic beasts, abstract pieces, abstract humans (we particularly liked the Teddy Boy and Girl) and winged / cloaked figures. All very different from the more sinuous, sensuous, flowing sculptures produced by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth during the same period.

The art historian Herbert Read when discussing the strange beasts and other forms created by Chadwick Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, who exhibited together at the 1952 Venice Biennale described their style as as the ‘geometry of fear’ 

‘These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance….Here are the images of flight, or ragged claws "scuttling across the floors of silent seas", of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear…. These British sculptors have given sculpture what it never had before our time – a linear, cursive quality.’ (source here)

There was also a video showing about the artist and his working methods. I found that interesting as he worked in a much different way to say Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He started by building a skeleton from metal rods (armature) welding them together then filling in the gaps with Stolit, a mixture of plaster and iron filings  so his technique was constructive, building up from scratch rather than cutting away material which is what sculptors working in stone and wood do. And he didn’t particularly plan the works. He had a rough idea which developed as his work on a sculpture progressed. One of the talking heads in the video compared his method to drawing in 3D with the armatures, inserting them, trying different arrangements, cutting away pieces, as he worked. There were some drawings but they seem to have been done after the work was completed rather than as preparatory sketches. I found his way of working quite interesting as it was different from other sculptors.

At Blackwell there were a number of larger works that were displayed outdoors in the grounds of the house. They were from later in his career and, overall, I thought they were less interesting, and less typical of his signature style, than those on display at Abbot Hall. But it did give an insight into how his work developed.

My favourite was this piece of two women walking up and down stairs that was displayed outside the entrance to the house‘



Women walking into the wind with their hair and clothing billowing behind them is a recurring theme in Chadwick’s work. This is a later example. The dress blowing behind makes the figure look like a strange cross between a human and a chicken.


This work of seated male and female figures  (Sitting Couple) reminded me of Henry Moore’s “King and Queen”


and they had a great view, especially on a nice sunny day


Percy Kelly at Abbot Hall

”I cannot paint for monetary gain. I would rather starve than sell one piece of my work but I know when I depart this world, people will stop and wonder at the beauty and truth of what I have portrayed.” Percy Kelly 1918-

Percy Kelly Fellside, Caldbeck, Cumberland 1968 (picture source: Abbot Hall website)

As well as the main Uwe Wittwer exhibition the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal are also showing their collection of works by Cumbrian artist, Percy Kelly. I’d never heard of him before but was bowled over by the paintings and prints on display.

Kelly was born into a working class family in  Workington in 1918. His ability at drawing became apparent early on.  Nevertheless, like most working class children before the war he didn’t have chance to attend college and so he left school at 14 to go to work for the Post Office. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Signals where his skills as a draughtsman were used in producing maps. After the war he returned to Cumbria and eventually went on to formally study art at Carlisle Art College in the 1960’s when he was in his 40’s.

He would probably be more well known if he had been prepared to sell his work. Although he was incredibly prolific, he only held five exhibitions during his lifetime and he held onto his paintings, sketches and prints, refusing to sell them.

Many of the drawings and paintings of Cumbrian towns and industrial landscapes are reminiscent of LS Lowry in that they feature bleak industrial landscapes. But the similarity ends there. Kelly’s pictures are extremely well drawn and less primitive than Lowry’s and are devoid of people, which is probably a reflection of his eccentric character. And he worked mainly in watercolours rather than oils.

But he didn’t only paint and draw industrial landscapes. He turned his hand to a variety of styles and techniques, reflected in the works on display at Abbot Hall which included bleak landscapes, a monochrome print of a fish and a painting of two Geisha’s which could easily be mistaken for an original Japanese print if it wasn’t for the view of Workington prominently visible through the window in the background!

There’s a slideshow of a selection of his works on the Guardian website here, some works exhibited at an exhibition at the Signature Gallery in Kendal here and some examples of his work from the Castlehouse Gallery in Cockermouth here. They give an impression of the range and variety of styles and techniques he adopted.

Included in the Abbot Hall exhibition were a sample of lavishly illustrated letters that he had written. They were really watercolours and drawings which he had written on. He seems to have been a very prolific letter writer and corresponded regularly with a number of people. There are currently two books available that feature a range of these letters.

This is an example of one, from one of the books, that’s featured on the blog “After the Artist’s Way”.

Other examples can be seen on the blog here.

There’s a number of articles about the artist and his work that have been published in the National press including the Guardian, Independent and the Spectator. And a few blog posts, including this one.

Kelly was incredibly eccentric to say the least. But he was a very talented artist and his work deserves to be more widely known.

Uwe Wittwer at Abbott Hall

During our trip to Kendal last Saturday we called into the Abbot Hall Gallery to take at look at the new exhibitions that have been installed since Christmas. The main exhibition on at the moment, “In the Middle Distance”  features works by a Swiss artist, Uwe Wittwer, who produces images that blur the boundary between figurative and abstract art. I’d had a brief "recce" on the web to check out his work and wasn’t expecting to like them too much,but I was very pleasantly surprised. Many of the works were either re-interpretations of paintings by Old Masters, such as Gainsborough and Constable, or computer manipulations of old photographs, he’d “found” on the Internet.

The first room was devoted to watercolours inspired by paintings by “Old Masters”. I particularly liked the "negative" of a Gainsborough portrait of a group of children. In the reinterpretation the children looked as if they were black, subverting the image of wealthy white children in the Georgian period.

Source: Flickr © All rights reserved by cuedit

He had also produced a reinterpretation of one of Abbot Hall’s prized possessions, the seventeenth-century triptych, The Great Picture, which shows Lady Anne Clifford at various stages in her life her parents and siblings, especially for the exhibition. It dominated the middle of the three galleries.

A number of computer manipulated photographs which were printed out with an inkjet printer were displayed in the third gallery. Again they were relatively large in scale. The exhibition booklet tells us about his methodology:

He hunts for suitable material in a state of reverie, browsing the Internet until the right image presents itself, some crucial element resonating and suggesting possibilities. The process is far from being purely mechanical, however, with each image being extensively manipulated and reworked by Wittwer, who has commented that his inkjets (each one unique) can take as
long as his watercolours or oils to produce.

He has created monochrome, blurred, ghostly images. I couldn’t help projecting my own interpretation of what they were. A large "negative" of children riding on a carousel came across as the horsemen of the apocalypse to me and another picture of a boat made me think of Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead over the Styx.

122008: "Boot" (Boat), 2008, Inkjet,180 x 150 cm

Uwe Wittwer Boat (2008) Inkjet on paper 180 x 150 cm
© The Artist

This picture included large dots, the edges spreading out like ink blots. They featured in a number of the works, both the photographic images and the watercolours, including his version of The Great Picture.

I particularly liked his picture “Three Sisters”, created using a photograph of three young women taken somewhere in Middle Europe (East Prussia?) in the late 1930’s, before the Second World War.

Three Sisters (2008) Source: Flickr © All rights reserved by cuedit

The booklet accompanying the exhibition compares the image to a faded family photograph, but to me they resembled ghosts; grey, half transparent figures against a darker, more substantial background. Their dark eyes peering out towards the viewer, almost seeming to look right through us.

I wasn’t so sure about Black Sun after Antonioni, also shown in the third gallery. It consisted of 78 framed watercolour ‘stills’ from the cult British film from the sixities, Blowup, that starred David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles.

Overall I thought it was an inspiring exhibition with some very interesting paintings and particularly atmospheric photographic based images.  It was well worth the visit and, for me, illustrated that art should, ideally, be experienced “live” rather than relying on looking at reproductions in books or images on the Internet.