Object of the week

While the Pathfoot Building is closed, the Art Collection will each week focus on some objects of interest. You can also search our entire collection online here.

Venice Window
Elizabeth Blackadder DBE RA RSA
(Oil on canvas, mid 1960s)

Elizabeth Blackadder is famous as the first woman artist to be elected to both the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy, and she has long been a friend of the University of Stirling’s Art Collection. We have acquired her works over a period of nearly 40 years through generous bequests, purchases and as gifts from the artist herself. Today we look at three of her still lifes in the Collection.
Elizabeth Blackadder first visited Venice in 1954, on a Carnegie Travelling Scholarship. As well as Venice and Brindisi in Italy she also visited Yugoslavia, then Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece. It was not practical for her to paint in oils during these scholarship travels and she mainly used brush, pen and ink. The painting above is likely to have been inspired by her visit to Venice, but was executed later. As with many of Blackadder’s still life works, the table featured here to the left is tilted almost vertically towards the viewer. Perspective though is regained as ones gaze turns to the colourful riches of Venice, glimpsed through the window. In the following short film Blackadder talks about a more recent trip to Venice, which inspired some print making.

There are two further large still lifes in the Art Collection at Stirling.

Still Life, Summer
Oil on canvas, 1963

This work is a typical example of one of Elizabeth Blackadder’s ‘flattened’ paintings. ‘The implied space of abstract painting, without conventional pictorial structure, allowed her, using an almost empty canvas or sheet of paper, to assemble a variety of objects in a free and seemingly random association. These representational elements provide a schema, but the painting is a poem built around them with its own internal logic’ (Duncan MacMillan in ‘Scottish Art 1460-1990’). Works such as this retain the form of the table, with the top raised to give the fullest view. Blackadder later dispensed with this method, using the surface of the canvas itself as the field on which objects appear. Here she is moving towards this, and only a suggestion of the table can be seen, with a definite tonal change on the left and right sides, indicating the edge of a table and a suggestion of a tablecloth edge at the bottom of the canvas. In fact the artist seems to have ensured that she has signed the work on the solid table, rather than on the draping fabric below. The objects here include a black coffee pot, which appears in a number of works of this period, a pair of clogs, a painted Easter egg and a coffee grinder. The objects featured in Blackadder’s still lifes of this time tend to reflect objects collected on travels – “an eclectic array of objects [which speak of her] fascination with the exotic” (Annabel Macmillan)

Still Life with Japanese Waterflower
Oil on canvas, 1973/4

The title here only gives a hint, but as Elizabeth Blackadder reveals in the following film, after she and her husband John Houston visited an exhibition of Japanese art they developed a great interest in this country, which they visited several times. Blackadder gathered Japanese artefacts, including a kimono, which appear in her paintings.

In 2012 the University of Stirling Art Collection held an exhibition entitled ‘Journeys Together’ which celebrated the 80th birthday of Elizabeth Blackadder and her creative relationship with her late husband John Houston. This exhibition was held in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Journeys from Home’ which ran at The Park Gallery in Falkirk (Blackadder’s birthplace). You can obtain a catalogue from these exhibitions by clicking here.

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