[1] Vase of Flowers, oil on canvas, 1976 © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[2] Saddle Bag and Peruvian Birds, watercolour, 1977 © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[3] James Huskin, Elizabeth Blackadder RA, silver gelatin print, 2002 Photo: RA/James Huskin © Royal Academy of Arts, London

Artist of the Month - January 2017


Elizabeth Blackadder RA (b.1931)

Blackadder studied in a combined course of History of Art at the University of Edinburgh and painting at Edinburgh College of Art. After graduating in 1955 she spent nine months on a scholarship in Italy. After the focus of Byzantine and Italian art in her history of art studies, she said "it was a revelation to me when I visited Italy for the first time and saw the work of Giotto, Duccio, Sassetta, Uccello, Piero della Francesca and also the glowing mosaics of Ravenna." Italy's architecture and landscapes provided Blackadder with subject matter and she also enjoyed the landscapes of Greece and Scotland, particularly in winter saying the barren landscapes allow her to see "the shape and form of it."

During the 1970s Blackadder's subject matter shifted from bleak landscapes in earthy tones she had seen whilst travelling, to flowers grown in her own garden. This may stem from her growing confidence in painting. She believed it was more challenging to capture beautiful subject matter. 'As a student, one wants to paint distressing things. It's quite easy to tackle grim things - it's difficult to paint beauty.' Vase of Flowers, 1976 [1] marks this shift in subject matter but the flowers are rooted in an architectural setting differing from the white backgrounds of her later famed flower paintings.

Along with a shift in subject matter, the 1970s saw a move from oil to watercolour, which she believed better suited the floral subjects. She noted early botanical studies often used watercolour. Her flower paintings are comparable with botanical drawings as she has deep knowledge of the many varieties she grows herself and tries to be accurate in her representations. She picks them and brings them into her studio - from the roots to the flower - allowing the flower to age and wilt capturing each's individuality. She paints the flowers one by one and has at times come back to a painting a year later when the same flower blooms again.

Blackadder visited Japan for the first time in 1985 with her husband, painter John Houston, where she admired the art, ceramics, calligraphy, architecture and gardens. She noted there had always been a Japanese influence in her work, but it is particularly evident in her later watercolours in which she abandons western perspective for the placement of objects on the same plane. Saddle Bag and Peruvian Birds, 1977 [2] demonstrates this use of composition in a still life using objects from her travels, which she surrounds herself with at home.

Blackadder was born in Falkirk and now lives in Edinburgh. In 1956 she began teaching at Edinburgh College of Art where she taught for over 20 years. She was elected a Royal Scottish Academician in 1972 and a Royal Academician in 1976 becoming the first woman to be a member of both institutions. Her works are in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London; the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow; the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Scottish Arts Council.