Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Elizabeth Blackadder - a retrospective

Elizabeth Blackadder
Cover of the catelogue for her retrospective exhibtion
Elizabeth Blackadder can be seen at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh until 2nd January 2012.   

A retrospective exhibition to celebrate the 80th birthday one of my favourite artists has recently opened at the National Galleries in Scotland.
This landmark exhibition will span six decades of Blackadder’s career, beginning with her work in the 1950s and culminating in her most recent paintings.
I first saw Elizabeth Blackadder's watercolours at the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Art many moons ago.  Her paintings of flowers, still life and the odd cat getting "in on the act" were both refreshing and charming - and I've got one in my bedroom.  Sadly it's only a reproduction - I only wish I could afford the real thing!

One of her claims to fame is that not only is she an elected member of both the Royal Academy of Art and Royal Scottish Academy - but that she was the first woman artist to be elected to both academies.

She also has the unique title of 2001 of the Queen’s Painter and Limner to Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland which is a title she has held since 2001.  Sir Henry Raeburn - he of the Skating Cleric - was the first artist in Scotland to hold this position some 200 years ago.

Besides being a best-selling artist, her artwork is also a consistent best seller decorating all manner of things in the RA shop in London.

I first wrote about her back in 2007 - see Flowers in Art...and Dame Elizabeth Blackadder RA RSA when I summarised what I'd learned about her approach to painting flowers.

This new retrospective exhibition looks back on artwork produced throughout her artistic career as she approaches 80 years of age.  It covers her drawings, paintings and printmaking and looks at the influences on her work and how it has developed over time.

This post tells you a bit about her work - and provides links to a video of an interview with her, a free mobile app and events associated with the exhibition.

About Elizabeth Blackadder

Elizabeth Blackadder was born in Falkirk in 1931.  Between 1949 to 1954, she studied at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art and subsequently won various scholarships which enabled her to traveland continue to study art.  She has subsequently continued to travel widely.

Between 1962 to 1986, she lectured in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art.

This is a Scottish artist with a Scottish work ethic!  She is somebody who appears to have a steady output and has had solo exhibitions virtually every year since 1959 in the UK and abroad.  She also participates in group exhibitions

I think it's probably that one of the reasons I like her work is because it's underpinned by her ability to draw.  Not in a literal, hyperealistic sense - but in a figurative and even painterly way.  She's one of those artists who demonstrates acute observation and has an uncanny ability to be able to draw in line and paint in such a way that you see objects as if for the first time.

The exhibition begins with early drawings of the Italian landscape and its architecture, shown alongside portraits from the period.

The still life has always been her main motif.
  • Her works in the sixties injected colour - often flat - into the genre.  Her use of colour varies depending on the type of artwork she is producing.  To my mind she is somewhat under-rated in relation to her sense of colour which I would regard as one of the real strengths of her work
  • Like the Impressionists, Japanese art has had a significant impression on her and her artwork.  Her work explored Japan's unique customs, objects and design and the exhibition has a room which is dedicated to the art influenced by Japan.
  • Over time, her travels and the objects she has collected and have influenced her still life paintings.
  • Her best loved work are probably the watercolour paintings which are almost botanical in nature.  To me it's very obvious that she loves the objects she paints.  She paints what she knows and what she likes.  One of the rooms in the exhibitions is dedicated to her drawings, prints and especially her watercolours produced from nature.
In launching the exhibition, John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland said:
‘Elizabeth Blackadder is, quite simply, one of Scotland’s greatest painters. She has revitalized long-established traditions of landscape, still life and flower painting in this country; she could be described as one of our finest painters in watercolour or equally lauded for her work as a printmaker.  At once profoundly Scottish and enticingly exotic, her art is both familiar and mysterious. This major exhibition is both a celebration of her work and an invitation to look again at the achievement of an artist who could be described as a “national treasure”’

More about Elizabeth Blackadder

Here are some links to information about Elizabeth Blackadder for those who won't be able to make it to the exhibition


  1. I very much enjoyed watching the video, thank you for posting it. I was unfamiliar with this artists work, but I can see why you are inspired by her. I hope you can make it to the exhibition and tell us all about it.

  2. I have much enjoyed her floral studies for many years, and to see her at work in her studio was wonderful…. such an unassuming person. I’m so glad you posted this link…thank you.


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