THIS week sees the centenary of the birth of one of Scotland’s favourite artists of the 20th century, Joan Eardley. Her paintings of Glasgow life and the landscapes and seascapes of the north east are distinctive and very appealing. Joan was one of those artists whose talent was not fully appreciated during her life, which was all too tragically cut short.

Her early life was blighted by tragedy, too. Though she is acclaimed as Scottish, Joan was actually born in England on May 18, 1921, 100 years ago on Tuesday. Her birth name was Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley and she was the daughter of a Scottish mother, Irene Helen Morrison, and an English former soldier, Captain William Edwin Eardley. The Eardleys had a dairy farm, Bailing Hill, at Warnham in Sussex which is where Joan and her younger sister Patricia (1922-2013) were born.

Capt Eardley had been gassed and sustained shellshock in the trenches late in World War One, and consequently suffered from what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had frequent bouts of depression and drank heavily so that they lost the farm in 1926 and he had to take a job with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Mrs Eardley and the girls moved to Blackheath in London to live with Joan’s grandmother. In 1929, Joan’s father killed himself, irretrievably blighting her life.

The late art critic Cordelia Oliver’s excellent biography of Eardley, published by Mainstream in 1988, states: “Joan was seven years old and her sister Patricia five when, in a slough of depression, William Eardley ended his life. Joan seldom spoke of this trauma in later years. Perhaps, indeed, her own recurring bouts of depression brought the thought of her father’s depression too close for comfort.”

The two girls were educated privately at St Helen’s School, their fees paid by an aunt. It was here that Joan’s talent for art was first recognised and she then attended art school in Blackheath and studied at Goldsmiths College before her grandmother and mother, with war approaching, decided to move to Scotland to stay with relatives in 1939, first at Auchterarder and then at Bearsden, the suburb of Glasgow.

Securing a place at Glasgow School of Art (GSA), Joan began her two great love affairs – the east end of Glasgow and the Scottish countryside and coast. She was recognised by her tutor Hugh Adam Crawford as an outstanding talent and he even bought her diploma work, a self-portrait that he hung in his own house.

Joan had a brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a teacher but ended up in a wartime job as a joiner’s labourer. All the time she was painting, and her work featured in major exhibitions at the end of the war. She also attended summer school at Hospitalfield House in Arbroath where she learned much from the artist James Cowie with whom she had several disagreements over her style of painting.

In her delayed post-Diploma year at GSA, Joan won scholarships that enabled her to travel to Italy. On her return she rented a studio in Townhead in Glasgow and began painting local scenes and people, especially children.

Perhaps Joan could see the writing on the wall, as she was capturing a doomed way of life as Glasgow slowly but surely modernised, the studio being a victim of the area’s regeneration.

“It’s desperate to lose the studio,” she said. “It is so near the slum parts that I draw. And so easy to get the slum children to come up. And I have become known in the district, in George St, and all the streets round about.”

She found another studio and became fascinated with the Samsons, a local family of 12. She said in an interview: “They are full of what’s gone on today – who has broken into what shop and who has flung a pie in whose face – it goes on and on. They just let out their life and energy … I do try to think about them in painterly terms … all the bits of red and bits of colour and they wear each other’s clothes – never the same thing twice running … even that doesn’t matter… they are Glasgow – this richness that Glasgow has – I hope it always will have – a living thing … as long as Glasgow has this I’ll always want to paint.”

Her work was beginning to be noticed and was also influencing people – the great documentary photographer Oscar Marzaroli adored her work and his own memorable picture of the Samson family was shot in Joan’s studio.

In 1951, she paid her first visit to Catterline, a village on the Aberdeenshire coast. She fell in love with Catterline and eventually bought a home there, where she entertained her friends and female lovers – she was gay at a time when openness was not allowed.

It was in that home and standing on beaches and rocks and in fields all around that she painted her stunning landscape works, though it was a seascape, The Wave, that is often thought to have been her “breakthrough” work.

She described the magic of Catterline: “It’s night – and the fire is giving a great, flickering light – and the lamplight too. It’s a great wee house. The floor is all levels at once. And the table three tarry boards nailed together. There’s a great big bed, half wood and half spring. A Grannie’s pot, a bucket and a basin that’s about all except for three lovely wee chairs. I’m sitting looking out at the darkness and the sea. I think I shall paint here. This is a strange place – it always excites me.”

Sadly Joan was to have just a few brief years of comparative fame – she never quite made it on the international scene – before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued painting until the cancer robbed her of her sight.

Joan Eardley died in 1963 at the age of just 42. Yet in her curtailed career she had produced over 300 paintings and 1400 sketches, and many are in various galleries and private hands.