Born in Sussex, Joan Eardley moved with her family to Bearsdon on the north-west boundary of Glasgow in 1939. She studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1940-43 and 1947-8 and at Hospitalfield School of Art in 1947. In 1949 she took her first Glasgow studio, eventually settling in the Townhead district of the city. Having exhibited from the late 1940s, her reputation was firmly established by a solo exhibition in 1955 at the St George's Gallery in London. In the same year she was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy, becoming a full Academician in 1963, the year in which she died. The following year the Arts Council of Great Britain held a touring memorial exhibition of over one hundred works.
Eardley first discovered the tiny fishing village of Catterline, just south of Stonehaven in 1950. Several visits followed and from 1956 she took up semi-residence in the village. She stayed first at The Watch House, then bought no. 1 Catterline, which she retained as a store and studio after she moved to 'Sarah's', and from there to no. 18 in the middle of the village. The sea, the shore with fishing nets stretched out to dry, the string of clifftop cottages perched high above, and the extensive fields beyond provided a constant source of inspiration. All year round she painted out of doors, revelling in the extreme conditions and developing an increasingly expressionistic technique to capture the wild landscape on canvas.
Painted in 1961 the present work, depicting a cluster of beehives on a hillside, a subject that recurs in Eardley's work (see C. Oliver, Joan Eardley, RSA, Edinburgh, 1988, p. 94), captures a precise moment in time, with bad weather conditions approaching. Eardley revelled in the extreme climate changes that could be experienced around Catterline, writing in a letter dated February 1958, 'Then quite suddenly, in the middle of the afternoon, the wind veered to the east with no warning - a gale force wind. My painting and me were enveloped in snow ... and everything I was looking at became blotted out by snow whirling everywhere from off the ground. That was the end of my day's work ... Certainly the coldest and worst day of the year - a most exciting day, too, with every variation of colour - black sea, bright green striped sea, brown sea, yellow sea and no sea. Extraordinary strong cloud formation, too ... I had to stick to one mood and position when all the time I was itching to turn hither and thither and run hither and thither.' (C. Oliver op.cit. pp. 85-88)