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Jan Patience: Kate’s brush with Joan Eardley’s art

Four Children 1962 to 2022 By Kate Downie
Four Children 1962 to 2022 By Kate Downie

Like many visitors to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery, I’ve always been intrigued by Joan Eardley’s Two Children, 1962.

With its livid scarlet background, it shows two girls who lived near Eardley’s studio in Townhead, Glasgow. It was found incomplete on an easel following her death from cancer in 1963, aged just 42.

Two Children hung for years in Kelvingrove, and is currently in Glasgow Museums Resource Centre (GMRC), but I am delighted to hear it will return to Kelvingrove soon thanks to an incredible project, backed by Eardley’s artist niece, Anne Morrison, in which artist Kate Downie has lovingly and respectfully completed the painting.

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Kate Downie in her studio

I visited Kate in her Fife studio last week to see her “finished” painting, which sings with new life. Kate has always been brave in her approach to making art, but as she admits herself, this is one of her boldest projects. “Art is all about intention,” she told me. “And Joan Eardley didn’t intend to die. She meant to finish this painting.”

Making studies of local children, Kate discovered “hidden” figures in Eardley’s painting; a baby whose hand had been stranded on its big sisters face, a wee boy in wellies tugging at his sister’s hand. She added her own touches; glittery boots, a TV screen and contemporary newspaper scraps. All in all, it’s a revelation. And very, very moving.

Two Children becomes four as artist reveals secrets of unfinished Joan Eardley masterpiece

The legacy of Eardley like many other hugely talented Scottish women artists has to be fought for tooth and nail. It takes a concerted effort by artists’ families and friends, galleries and supporters to make this happen. I can’t wait to see Kate’s 21st Century Two Children displayed cheek-by-jowl with Eardley’s original. It’s a wonderful way to way to keep her legacy alive.

Find out more here.