Elizabeth Blackadder: drawing from life

By Anita Fitzsimons

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder is a pioneering and ambitious artist. Arguably Scotland’s greatest female artist, her work is best known for her observational studies of plants and animals. Blackadder’s prolific and varied artwork is testament to a life dedicated to looking at things with a keen eye.

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Interview with Dame Elizabeth Blackadder

We spoke to Dame Elizabeth as the finishing touches were made to a retrospective exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, where she reflects on a lifetime spent creating art. BBC World Affairs Correspondent Allan Little describes some of the key moments from his career and answer questions about what it is like to report the world in an age of conflict. Bill Boyd reads his poem Hogmanay, written in the style of Robert Burns.

Life and Love

Born in Falkirk, Elizabeth Blackadder studied at Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University between 1949 and 1954. She developed a lifelong passion for travel as a talented student after receiving a number of scholarships to Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Following her marriage to fellow artist John Houston, the two embraced a life of drawing, painting, teaching, and travel. They were inseparable until Houston’s death in 2008. As she approaches her ninth decade Blackadder remains absorbed in her life’s work - her painting and printmaking practice.

Artistic Pioneer

Blackadder has a number of firsts to her name - she is the first female artist to be elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Scottish Academy (.pdf). In 2001 she was made the first female Artist Limner by The Queen, a 300-year-old post previously held by Henry Raeburn.

2011 sees a major retrospective of Elizabeth Blackadder’s work open at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, in the year of her 80th birthday. The exhibition will hopefully see her colourful work, rich in observation, impression, and the stunning use of colour, reaching a larger audience. The exhibition features many of her famed still lives but casual observers of her artistic output may be surprised by the intense colours and energy of her larger studies. The artist remains fascinated with exploring objects, still lives and the space around them.

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