ELIZABETH VIOLET BLACKADDER, R.S.A., R.A.
FRITILLARY AND TULIP
Signed and dated 1977, also signed and titled on the backboard
Watercolour and gouache
DAME ELIZABETH BLACKADDER, RA (b.1931)
Born in Falkirk in 1931, Blackadder often stayed with her maternal grandmother on the West coast of Scotland, near Holy Loch, where her interest in botany and art began, as she drew the flowers and plants she collected. This dual fascination inspired her now hallmark botanical works for which she is so highly renowned.
Blackadder studied Fine Art from 1949-54 at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art, lecturing at the latter from 1962 until her retirement in 1986. Blackadder’s student work was of a sombre tone and concentrated on landscapes and architecture. This output was inspired by her travels in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia in 1954 and 1955-6, the results of a postgraduate scholarship and a travelling scholarship, the latter affording her nine months in Italy. A selection of these works was exhibited at the Gimpel Fils Gallery, London in 1955, the exhibition, Eight Young Contemporaries, chosen by Peter Gimpel from student work throughout England and Scotland. Blackadder’s first solo show was in 1959 at the 57 Gallery, Edinburgh.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s Blackadder widened her range, creating a series of still lifes focusing on unique objects, such as a Turkish coffee grinder or Venetian goblet placed against a densely painted background. The curiosities float on the picture plane although simultaneously the surface can be deemed a table, her inspiration for such compositions deriving from Byzantine mosaics and Japanese painting. It was such an early still life, White Still Life:Easter which won Blackadder the Royal Scottish Academy’s Guthrie Award in 1962, the Academy’s main award for a young painter. This style of spatial arrangement is characteristic of her still life work from this time onwards.
Blackadder and her husband, the artist John Houston, continued to travel extensively during the 1960s, including visits to the Matisse Chapel, Vence and the nearby Picasso and Matisse museums in 1964. Blackadder’s palette began to brighten, as did the mood of her work, affected by the light and warmth of the Mediterranean. In 1965 Blackadder exhibited for the first time with the Mercury Gallery, London, with whom she showed every two or three years from then onwards until 2000.
Blackadder began featuring Flowers in her work prominently from the 1970s, working in watercolour, and to this day these works remain an ever present and striking element in her oeuvre. They display her lightness of touch, intriguing compositions of flowers and plants against the picture plane and a meticulous but beautiful observation of botanical detail. Blackadder’s illness and recuperation in the late 1970s meant she had to work from subjects close to her, resulting in depictions of subjects from her magnificent garden in Edinburgh, which is the most likely inspiration for the present work, Fritillary and Tulip. In 1979, she introduced a course to her teaching at Edinburgh College of Art on learning to paint from plants and collaborated with Dr Brinsley Burbridge of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh on an exhibition of contemporary botanical painting, The Plant, which was held in the Scottish Arts Council’s touring exhibition. Simultaneously with Flowers, it was in the mid-1970s that Cats became another favourite subject of Blackadder’s and inspiration for further beautiful and analytical observations. In 1995 Blackadder featured her three cats and those of her friends in designs that appeared on Royal Mail postage stamps.
Blackadder’s election to the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy, London, in 1972 and 1976 respectively, made her the first female academician of both outstanding institutions. In 1982 she was awarded the OBE, later being promoted to DBE in 2003. The Scottish Arts Council and Welsh Arts Councils both organized touring retrospective exhibitions of Blackadder’s work in 1981-82 and 1989 respectively and she exhibited in New York at the Lillian Heidenberg Gallery in 1983 and 1986.
In 1985, Blackadder made her first visit to Japan, which had often inspired her still-lifes and their composition. The Japanese legacy is another trademark within Blackadder’s output, Kimonos and Japanese sweets feature as subjects and decorative Japanese paper and collage elements are used as mediums. The writer Duncan Macmillan stated in a 1994 catalogue of Blackadder’s work, ‘Japanese art..does not just reflect some casual work of style..What Blackadder has learnt from Japan is a way to extend things both natural and man made that surround us. As she does so she remains deeply loyal to the special poetry of the tradition’.
Blackadder’s portraiture, although not prolific, includes such significant works as the The Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s commissioned portrait of the author Mollie Hunter and a portrait of Lady Naomi Mitchison, the author, which was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery, London. In 2001 Blackadder was appointed Her Majesty’s Painter and Limner in Scotland.
Blackadder’s work feature in important private collections and numerous important public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate Gallery, London, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Royal Bank of Scotland, Government Art Collection, University of Cambridge at Kettle’s Yard and the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.
Blackadder continues to live and work in Edinburgh.
This post was written by joecollinson