In Memory of Elizabeth Blackadder (1931-2021)

Dame Elizabeth Blackadder RSA and John Houston RSA (1930 - 2008), photograph © National Galleries of Scotland.


The recent death of Elizabeth Blackadder will have saddened the many lovers of art who have enjoyed her paintings and collected her prints. I had the pleasure of making several visits to her home in Edinburgh during a period when Lund Humphries published two books on Elizabeth’s work: Elizabeth Blackadder by Duncan Macmillan and Elizabeth Blackadder Prints by Christopher Allan, and a book on her husband: John Houston by William Packer. I particularly treasure the memory of a lunch at one of their favourite restaurants on the harbour side at Leith. There we planned the book on John’s work and discussed the subject of a print that would accompany a special limited edition of her book. A cat or a flower? She etched a beautiful print, The Lily.

From their student days together Elizabeth and John travelled widely. And found cats in some favourite places: the semi-wild cats that chase scraps and birds around the pavement cafes of Venice or the magnificently gingery cat that upstages the black and white liquorish allsorts that is Sienna Cathedral.


Cat and Orchid (2002) & Venice Cats (2003)


Several of the obituaries have suggested with regret if not disapproval that the popularity of Elizabeth Blackadder’s paintings and prints of cats and flowers has obscured her other work. But the success of her printmaking with the Glasgow Print Studio in no way diminishes our appreciation of her paintings. The colours and composition of many of the works were influenced by the visits the couple made to Japan. A touching homage to Japan's culture and a representation of her own modest but distinct personality is combined in the 1985 Self Portrait with Red Lacquer Table. The depiction and separated placement of everyday objects in her paintings reflects her appreciation of the beauty and meditative value of the Zen rock gardens of Japan. This is well described by Duncan Macmillan in the obituary he wrote for The Scotsman:

If, however, in her earlier still-lifes, you can recognise objects assembled on a table to be painted, later any such notional support disappeared and the objects and perhaps some brush marks, patterns or strips of gold, all seem to be suspended in some marvellous mental space. This poetic, free association was the hallmark of some of her very best work.


Self-Portrait with Red Lacquer Table (1985)


Certainly Elizabeth Blackadder had the appreciation and respect of other artists as well as her large public. She is the only woman to have been elected to both Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy. She was made a Dame in 2003 and was the first woman to be appointed Her Majesty’s Painter and Limner in Scotland in the more than 300 years since this office of the royal court in Scotland was created.


~ Nigel Farrow, Lund Humphries Chairman


Elizabeth Blackadder Prints illustrates and catalogues every published print made from1958 to 2011. The prints are presented thematically and this approach reveals her constant interest in still-life composition, and her interpretations of the natural world, from landscapes to animals.