By May Matthews, Scottish Picture Specialist at Bonhams
I was delighted when the Balmoral asked me to have a chance to view their wonderful art collection in their exclusive suites. I jumped at the chance to have a sneak peek at what lies behind that beautiful façade. Walking into the lobby, you know that their art buyer had great taste, as you are met by two fabulous Callum Innes (b.1962) canvases. Rarely do you get to see them on such a large and impressive scale. Opposite the check-in desk there are works by more ‘big hitters’ in 20th Century British Art, such as Norman Ackroyd RA (b. 1938) and Patrick Heron CBE (1920 – 1999). So, based on what I had seen in the first minute of walking in, I knew I was in for a treat! The rest of the collection certainly lived up to my expectations. With so many wonderful paintings on view, it was hard to pick a favourite, but I was blown away by the beauty of a still life in the hotel’s Glamis Suite.
It is a stunning painting by the artist Dame Elizabeth Violet Blackadder (1931–2021). Blackadder has been a much-loved Scottish artist for over half a century. The first woman to be elected to both the Royal and Royal Scottish academies, she was made a dame in 2003 and appointed Her Majesty’s painter and limner in Scotland in 2001. However, her talents deserve further praise, examination and critical attention.
Sadly, it has taken her death last year to bring her art back into the spotlight. In the artist's own words: 'I don't really talk about my art.' Instead, she has always allowed her practice to speak for itself. This painting is a wonderful example of her understated quality and demonstrates why she should be a household name.
Painter and printmaker Blackadder was born in Falkirk. She studied at Edinburgh College of Art under William Gillies, and lectured at the college from 1962 until her retirement in 1986. In 1956 she married fellow artist John Houston. She was well known for her delicate paintings of flowers, cats and still life subjects, however, she also painted landscapes and portraits.
Executed in watercolour, this was Blackadder’s preferred medium, as its delicacy translated well to her chosen subject matter, as well as the sense of calmness in this particular work. The artwork has all the hallmarks of a Blackadder. Her deep respect for Japanese culture is evident in this piece as she places everyday objects against blank planes of space. The flattened perspective is another marker of her sensitivity to the Japanese aesthetic and works towards the abstract nature of the overall piece.
Elizabeth Blackadder’s fascination with Japan began when she was a child, when an uncle brought her back souvenirs from a trip there. She loved the minimalist style and the purity of design. As an adult, she herself visited Japan regularly and fell in love with the use of space in art; admiring the process of ‘leaving out’ as well as ‘putting in’. In the 1980s, Blackadder's work became increasingly inspired by Japan's art and cultural traditions, which can be seen in this painting, dated 1981. Around this time, she also started to use Japanese paper, to enhance the overall effect. Her studio was full of objects such as fans, kimonos and musical instruments picked up on her travels. As much a collector as an artist, much of her paintings appear to be inspired and stimulated by a sheer curiosity for the world around her. Therefore, it seems a perfect setting to be in the Glamis Suite at the Balmoral, where equally curious visitors can base themselves when exploring one of the world’s finest cultural capitals.
If you want to see more of her work, it can be seen at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Tate and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
For more information on Scottish Art, you can contact May at firstname.lastname@example.org or pop in to meet her in person at Bonhams salerooms, 22 Queen Street, Edinburgh.