The major exhibition in 2011 at the Scottish National Gallery
highlights the work of one of Scotlands most accomplished living artists, Dame Elizabeth Blackadder. Celebrating the artists 80th birthday, the exhibition presents her work in all its diversity, ranging from the much-loved studies after nature, to lesser-known paintings which will challenge expectations. This landmark exhibition spans six decades of Blackadders career, beginning with her work in the 1950s and culminating in her most recent paintings.
Since the opening of the exhibition that launched her career in 1959, Elizabeth Blackadder has become renowned for her paintings, prints and drawings. Her work is both cherished by the public whilst being highly respected by the art establishment. She was the first woman artist to be elected to both the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy and in 2001 she was honoured with the title Her Majesty the Queens Painter and Limner in Scotland, a role that began with Sir Henry Raeburn almost 200 years ago.
Born in Falkirk in 1931, Blackadder studied at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art. Her early work was shaped by her acquaintance with the Scottish painters William Gillies, William MacTaggart and Anne Redpath, whom she met through her studies. Blackadders outstanding technical ability was visible from the outset and she thrived in an environment which focused on the primacy of drawing and observation. The exhibition will begin with early drawings of the Italian landscape and its architecture, shown alongside portraits from the period. This includes one of Blackadder herself completed when she was just twenty. These striking works still appear fresh over fifty years later, demonstrating her innate ability with paint and line.
From the 1960s onwards, the motif of still-life became key to her development. Like other individual artistic voices of her generation, such as David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin, Blackadder quickly saw the possibilities offered by the vibrant colour and dynamism of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. Her subsequent works injected new life into the Edinburgh School tradition of finding subject matter in the surrounding world. Dazzling canvases, such as Flowers and a Red Table, fill the central room of the exhibition, revealing the energising effect these developments have had on her art.
Blackadders studies from nature are perhaps the best-known and best-loved of all her work. They illustrate a fascination which has continued throughout her long career; the desire to capture the world around her, with no subject being too small or insignificant. Under Blackadders analytical eye the modest form of a flower or shell is transformed into a symphony of colour, shape and rhythm. These works are celebrated with a room dedicated to her drawings, prints and especially her watercolours produced from nature.
Blackadder has travelled widely throughout her career, with new sights and foreign cultures providing much inspiration. In the 1980s a series of visits to Japan made an indelible impression on her imagination which resulted in a burst of creativity that embraced new techniques and imagery. A room in the exhibition has been dedicated to her exploration of the countrys unique customs, objects and design and includes works such as the outstanding Self-Portrait with Red Lacquer Table of 1988. The display also includes the artists Japanese-inspired prints, which combine materials such as gold leaf with more conventional printing methods to create exquisite and precious works.
The exhibition concludes with recent and new painting, drawing and printmaking by an artist who continues to work tirelessly. Endlessly inspired by the world around her, she brings the same energy to her art now as she did at the outset of what has become a long and pre-eminent career.
John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland said: Elizabeth Blackadder is, quite simply, one of Scotlands 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.