Contemporary British Artists: Elizabeth Blackadder

Elizabeth Blackadder in her studio, November 2010

Elizabeth Blackadder in her studio, November 2010

In a new series of blog posts starting this week, we look at contemporary British artists and accompanying Yale books that illustrate their creative output. This week’s artist is the Scottish painter and printmaker Elizabeth Blackadder.

Recently an exhibition opened at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh to celebrate the 80th birthday of the British painter Elizabeth Blackadder. Six decades of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder’s art is being represented at the show, starting with her work in the 1950s and going right up to her most recent paintings. Accompanying this exhibition is the Yale book Elizabeth Blackadder by Phil Long who is senior curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

About the artist

Blackadder is one of Britain’s best-known and respected artists. She has played a major role in revitalising long-established traditions of landscape, still life and flower painting in Scotland. At once profoundly Scottish and enticingly exotic, her art is also both familiar and mysterious. As she celebrates her eightieth birthday, there are no signs that her passion for making art is diminishing.

Elizabeth Blackadder, Still Life with Iris © The Artist

The Japan-influence 'Still Life with Iris' (Elizabeth Blackadder)

Born in Falkirk in 1931, Elizabeth Blackadder studied at Edinburgh College of Art in the 1950s, when she became closely acquainted with notable Scottish artists such as William Gillies and Anne Redpath. During the 1950s she was rewarded many travelling scholarships and travelled widely in Europe, painting landscapes in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. She also exhibited more experimental work in the 50’s which showed the influence of American artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In the 1960s she developed her interests in still life while continuing with her love of landscape by painting landscapes in France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland. During the 60’s Blackadder acquired a growing reputation for her paintings of flowers, Flowers on an Indian Cloth being a notable example.

In the 70’s she gained an interest in Japan and Japanese artistic traditions and she started using Japanese paper for her water colour paintings with the background being left blank. In the 1980s she visited Japan on a number of occasions and many of her paintings at the time showed the influence of these trips. She was appointed an OBE in 1982, before being promoted to DBE in 2003. In 2001 she was appointed Her Majesty’s Painter and Limner in Scotland. She has been awarded honorary doctorates by four universities.

About the Book

Yale’s generously illustrated book tells the fascinating story of her career, from her early days as a student in Edinburgh, and her friendships with Scottish painters William Gillies, William MacTaggart and Anne Redpath, to her very recent work.

Page Spreads from 'Elizabeth Blackadder'

Page Spreads from 'Elizabeth Blackadder'

Blackadder has developed an art that is highly personal, yet accessible and beautiful. It explores a diverse range of subjects through many media, drawing on the artist’s experiences of foreign travel, as well as plant forms and animals closer to home. Her analytical eye allows her to see the underlying structure, design and colour harmony in both the exotic and the everyday. Her success can be mapped out easily with impressive lists of exhibitions, steady sales and official honours, and her art is represented in many museums and private collections. Yet, in spite of all these accolades, there remains a lingering sense that Blackadder’s art has not received the attention it deserves. Perhaps this is because the power of her art is sometimes masked by the charm of her subject matter or the deceptive ease of her technique, while her quiet mastery and natural reticence seem at odds with much of the work of today’s artists. As a result, we still seem some distance from establishing a definitive view of Blackadder’s achievement. The book, therefore, is both a celebration of and an invitation to look again at the work of one of our greatest living painters.

Elizabeth Blackadder is available now from Yale University Press.

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