The Edwin Morgan Papers: Remembering Joan Eardley


Today is the 50th anniversary of Joan Eardley’s death in 1963 and to commemorate Eardley we would like to share some gems from The Papers of Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) that we have identified during the cataloguing of MS Morgan.

MS Morgan P_1_184-To Joan Eardley_detail

Joan Eardley’s painting Sweet Shop, Rotten Row c1961 [GLAHA 51762] was presented to the Hunterian Art Gallery by Edwin Morgan in 2004, along with the rest of his substantial art collection, which included 3 other paintings by Eardley.  The Hunterian Art Gallery’s catalogue notes:

Eardley’s use of broken colour, collage and stencilled letters was stimulated by what she saw around her.  In Sweet Shop, Rotten Row, the object of her fascination was a frequently re-painted shop sign, about which she said, ‘The word “Confectioner” was repeated about three times, with differtent bits of it showing through the latest layer.  Below that was the yellow of the previous one, below that bits of the red from the previous C of Confectioners.  It seems to me very interesting as a painter.

Eardley’s attraction to the word ‘Confectioners’ is echoed in Morgan’s poem To Joan Eardley, which was inspired by the painting.

Pale yellow letters

humbly straggling across

the once brilliant red

of a broken shop-face


and a blur of children

at their games, passing…

The poem was first published in The Second Life by Edinburgh University Press, in 1968, but had previously been broadcast on 21 October 1962 on the radio programme ‘Scottish Life and Letters, BBC Scottish Home Service, for which EM was paid £5 15s 6d.  The previous month Eardley had written to EM from her house in Catterline, thanking Edwin for the poem saying ‘It pleases me very much.’

It is strang[e] to see words come out of what one has only managed to think & feel in terms of paint.  Its a fine poem.  Poor Rotton Row.

Within MS Morgan we have EM’s original manuscript draft of To Joan Eardley, which is dated April 1962, and in the draft we can see the poet’s workings and revisions.  To Joan Eardley is just one of almost 1500 manuscript draft poems by Edwin Morgan held by the University of Glasgow’s Special Collection.  For further information on this collection please see MS Morgan P/1

Morgan noted in an interview published in the Sunday Herald on 12 December 2004:

I began my collection with Joan Eardley….  I never met her though.  She was a very shy person, and you didn’t see her very often; she kept very much to herself and didn’t go about the chattering cultural world.  I saw her once, sitting on the steps of the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh as I was passing along Princes Street, and I almost stopped. I wish I had done so but I was too shy myself to talk to her.

Special Collections also have a letter from Eardley in MS Morgan, clearly written in response to one from EM enquiring about the paintings he had purchased.  In Eardley’s letter dated 16 June 1959 she notes:

Accn4579_27-Eardley 1959_detail

On the back of the frame of Sweet Shop, Rotten Row c1961 there are a number of labels: ‘Joan Eardley Memorial exhibition of 1964 (The Arts Council of Great Britain); Joan Eardley exhibition at Aitkin Dott & Son (The Scottish Gallery); Joan Eardley exhibition, Scottish Arts Council, 19 Charlotte Square; and a newspaper cutting showing a photograph of the artist with one of her child models in her studio.’ Not only does this tell us that it was displayed in the Memorial Exhibition held a year after the artist’s death, but it could also suggest that this is the oil painting EM purchased from Dott’s, and thus dating its execution to 1957.  However, the Hunterian Art Gallery’s records appear to suggest that it was another two oil paintings by Eardley, ‘Setting Sun and Stacks’ (GLAHA 51754) and ‘Stacks at Evening’ (GLAHA 51755) that were painted in the autumns of 1956 and 1957, respectively, and purchased by Morgan for £20 each in 1958 and 1959.

The Hunterian Art Gallery’s catalogue quotes EM as stating:

I began to buy paintings around 1960.  I got quite a few Joan Eardley’s.  Exhibitions of her work were coming out one after the other.  She was very, very famous then, and her paintings were still relatively cheap to buy.  I like her a lot, particularly her Glasgow pictures, but equally the landscape paintings, fields, sunsets, that kind of thing, and later on in Catterline. There is something about her … I could not describe exactly what it was but she was one of my favourites.

Sweet Shop, Rotten Row c1961, along with other works by the artist, can presently be seen in the current Joan Eardley display at Hunterian Art Gallery.

All images from Edwin Morgan’s papers appear courtesy of the Edwin Morgan Trust (SCIO).

Reblogged from Glasgow University Special Collections blog. Lovely blog about the late Edwin Morgan’s connection with GSA alumnus Joan Eardley, commemorating 50 years since her death.