Elizabeth Blackadder by Norman McBeath bromide print, 2003 11 in. x 11 in. (278 mm x 278 mm) Given by, 2005 © Norman McBeath / National Portrait Gallery, London Elizabeth Blackadder
by Norman McBeath
bromide print, 2003
11 in. x 11 in. (278 mm x 278 mm)
Given by, 2005
© Norman McBeath / National Portrait Gallery, London

Born in Falkirk, Blackadder studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1949 to 1955 under Robert Philipson, William MacTaggart and William Gillies. A travelling scholarship in 1954 took her to Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia where she was influenced by Byzantine art and mosaics. On a further scholarship to Italy the following year she immersed herself in early Renaissance art but also looked at such contemporary artists as Morandi, whose extraordinarily still lifes would later be recalled in her own work. The drawings made on the early Italian journey also reveal the extraordinary talent for draughtsmanship which was continued in her work over the last sixty years.

In 1956 Blackadder married the landscape painter John Houston and together they began to travel extensively. From her education, to her travels and even her marriage - Elizabeth is in every sense of the word an artist to her very core.

Despite the fact that she could never be described as an 'abstract artist', Blackadder gained much from her understanding of the non-figurative revolution which swept through European and American painting in the late 1950s and 1960s. In 1965 Blackadder was looking at new ways of approaching the still life, taking her cue from Redpath and the Edinburgh School but bringing to this her own unique vision which drew on sources as diverse as Mughal miniatures and colour-field abstraction.

Through the 1980s and 90s, as she worked in different styles for each of her chosen genres, her botanical work became more intense and her landscapes ever simpler. At the same time, the still lifes, adopted a yet more flattened appearance with no perspective whatsoever.

The objects were always chosen with care: from popular toys and ornaments to Japanese and Indian prints, floating in their space, often surrounded by a shimmering aura, suggesting an individual presence and character. The way Elizabeth partially paints the frame, is a device borrowed from both Mughal and Japanese art. These incredible details borrowed from around the world, be it Asia or America, make this Scottish artist's work truly universal in its visual language.

216366 Elizabeth Blackadder D.B.E., R.A., R.S.A. (Scottish b.1931) Kimono, Signed and dated 2008
Oil on canvas 110.5cm x 110.5cm (43.5in x 43.5in)
Estimate £ 20,000-30,000
Exhibited: Elizabeth Blackadder: New Paintings, 2008 - The Scottish Gallery

The pink silk kimono pictured here, one from her own collection and often seen in photographs of the artist's studio, also features in other earlier works. Here, set against an ochre ground more like gold in its intensity and richness, it seems almost venerated, like some early Siennese altarpiece. While from one viewpoint, we might see this as a garment hanging on a wall, from another, in keeping with Blackadder's practice, it has a sense of floating in space or being suspended above a vertical plane. Depicted life-size, it also emphasises the importance of this particular painting in the artist's oeuvre as a supreme invocation of the Japanese culture in which she has maintained a lifelong interest.

Kimono by Elizabeth Blackadder will be featured in Lyon & Turnbull's Contemporary & Post-War sale on 15th March, 2017. Check out the full catalogue here.

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