Elizabeth Blackadder, Scottish (1931 - )

Elizabeth Blackadder

Dame Elizabeth Violet Blackadder, Mrs Houston, DBE, RA, RSA (born 24 September 1931) is a Scottish painter and printmaker. She is the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy.

In 1962 she began teaching at Edinburgh College of Art where she continued until her retirement in 1986. Blackadder worked in a variety of media such as oil paints, watercolour, drawing and printmaking. She attended Glasgow Print Studio where she worked with print makers to produce etchings and screen prints of flowers. In her still life paintings and drawings, she considers space between objects carefully. She also paints portraits and landscapes but her later work contains mainly her cats and flowers with extreme detail. Her work can be seen at the Tate Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and has appeared on a series of Royal Mail stamps.

In 2012, Blackadder was chosen to paint Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's official Christmas card.

Blackadder was born and raised at 7 Weir Street, the third child of Thomas and Violet Isabella Blackadder. Violet Blackadder ensured Elizabeth benefited from a series of promising educational opportunities, determined to sparing her daughter the struggles she had been through convincing her own father to support her training as a domestic science teacher. Blackadder's father died when she was 10, her mother aged 89 in 1984.

She spent a substantial part of her childhood alone, due in part to a keen appetite for reading. During her teenage years Blackadder began meticulously collecting local flowers, compiling the specimens by pressing and labeling them with their full Latin names, a fascination that was to surface much later in her paintings of plants and flowers.

A former pupil of Falkirk High School, she donated one of her paintings to the school on the occasion of its centenary in 1986. Blackadder remembers the pleasure she derived from her art classes in particular, but also enjoying dissecting and drawing plants as part of her botanical studies; she spent the majority of her sixth year in the art room at Falkirk High School.

She arrived in Edinburgh in September 1949 to start on the nearly approved Fine Art degree and graduated with first class honours in 1954. Blackadder studied early Byzantine art while at university, and one of the most enduring influences on her work was her tutor and prolific painter William Gillies. Blackadder spent the fourth and fifth years of her MA course concentrating on her imminent examinations; it was during this period that she met Scottish artist John Houston who was to later become her husband.

The fifth and final year of Blackadder's Fine Art degree was spent at Edinburgh College of Art where she researched throughout the year for her dissertation on William McTaggart. She graduated in 1954 with first-class degree and was awarded both a Carnegie travelling scholarship by the Royal Scottish Academy and an Andrew Grant Postgraduate Scholarship by Edinburgh College of Art.

In 1954, Blackadder put the money from her Carnegie scholarship towards spending three months travelling through Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy, where she focused on classical and Byzantine art. In 1962 her painting, White Still Life, Easter was given the Gurtrie Award for best work by a young artist at the Royal Scottish Academy.
During the 1960s she developed her interests in still life while continuing with her love of landscape by painting landscapes in France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland and acquired a growing reputation for her paintings of flowers, Flowers on an Indian Cloth being a notable example . During her travels to France she became more aware of the artist Henri Matisse and because of this influence she ended up lightening up her palette.

In the 1980s she visited Japan on a number of occasions and many of her paintings at the time showed the influence of these trips. First visiting in 1985 and returning the following year, Blackadder's interest in Eastern techniques and subject matter was realised in a series of vibrant oils and watercolours shown at the Mercury Gallery in 1991. Her desire to avoid the technical vibrancy of Tokyo took Blackadder to the Zen gardens of Kyoto; in many ways, her work depicts the principles of Zen which give paramount importance to the idea of empty space. Blackadder also traveled to the United States of America. Souvenirs of her travels would appear in many of her paintings.

Blackadder was the first woman to be an academician of both the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Royal Scottish Academy; in 1982 she was awarded the OBE for her contribution to art which was promoted to a DBE in 2003.

In 2001, she was appointed Her Majesty’s Painter and Limner in Scotland.

Along with an Honorary degree from Heriot-Watt University in 1989, Blackadder has been awarded honorary doctorates by at least three other universities.

Solo Exhibitions
New Paintings, Mercury Gallery, London, 14 October 1969 – 8 November 1969
New Paintings, Mercury Gallery, London, 14 October 1988 – 19 November 1988
Elizabeth Blackadder, Aberystwth Arts Centre, 8 April 1989 – 20 May 1989, the Gardener Centre, Brighton, 3 June 1989 – 8 July 1989, Oriel Bangor Art Gallery, 15 July 1989 – 19 August 1989
New Oils and Watercolours, Mercury Gallery, London, 22 May 1991 – 22 June 1991
New Work, Oils and Watercolours, Mercury Gallery, London, 22 September 1993 – 23 October 1993
New Oils and Watercolours, Mercury Gallery, London, 16 October 1996 – 16 November 1996
Elizabeth Blackadder, Mercury Gallery, London, 20 October 1999 – 20 November 1999
Paintings, Prints and Watercolours 1955-2000, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh 28 July 2000 – 15 September 2000

Artist's Gallery


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