Hampstead artist Jean M Gardiner exhibits retrospective at Lauderdale House

Top of Hampstead Heath by JM Gardiner. Credit: Jo Hailey (Striking Places)

Top of Hampstead Heath by JM Gardiner. Credit: Jo Hailey (Striking Places) - Credit: Archant

Jean M Gardiner has been painting the Heath and its surroundings for over six decades

Jersey Beach by JM Gardiner. Credit: Jo Hailey (Striking Places)

Jersey Beach by JM Gardiner. Credit: Jo Hailey (Striking Places) - Credit: Archant

The autumn is perhaps the best time to stroll around the beautiful grounds of Lauderdale House; and when you do, you’ll be able to take a break from all that leaf-kicking by a visiting a charming retrospective of local artist Jean M Gardiner’s work of a lifetime, opening early September.

Gardiner grew up in Wales, attending Wallasey Art School from 16 and then going on to Liverpool College of Art in the 1950s. She spent some time in Somerset with her then husband, fellow painter Frank Anderson, before moving to London in 1963, where she has lived ever since.

“I came to Hampstead with my daughter after I left my husband. To be honest, it was a terrible time – I’d married far too early – and I had no money whatsoever.”

Moving to the capital as a twentysomething single mother in the sixties couldn’t have been easy. Why did she do it?

“Oh, my husband always had other women,” she says airily, “It was a different time, and it felt like men were much more allowed to do that back then.”

In London, as well as raising a family and creating her own extensive portfolio of work, Gardiner lectured in Art and Society at North East London Polytechnic (now East London University), and taught art at Hampstead School, Athlone House Nursing Home and at the Charlie Ratchford day care centre in Camden.

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“I was part lecturing and part working with disabled people – and as it’s something I’ve always been interested in, it was a wonderful time.”

“My second daughter’s father came to live my first child and I, but when we split up I found myself on my own with two children, which meant that I had to put painting aside for some time. I wish I’d devoted more time to it,” she says.

Still, the retrospective at Lauderdale House includes a vast selection of Gardiner’s works spanning her entire life and several countries she has visited and painted, from Australia and New York to Oxfordshire and Jersey. Gardiner’s love for Hampstead, though, shines brightest: her numerous paintings and drawings of the Heath and the wider local area are a beautiful record of many familiar landmarks of trees, ponds, paths and houses, as well as the changing landscape over the last half-century.

“There have been many awful changes,” she says. “The rich/poor divide existed when I first moved here too, of course, but everybody mixed together much more and there was much less discrimination. I remember everyone used to eat in the same places, for instance – I loved it.”

When rent in the Hampstead area went up, Gardiner was a protected tenant and fought very hard to stay in her flat in Netherhall Gardens, which had been her home from 1967 to 2007, and lot of her paintings are of the garden there and the sun and shadow inside Netherhall. After a long battle, she was paid to leave, though she still lives right next to the Heath.

At 85, Jean is still painting, though “less so than before because I can’t carry my paints that comfortably! But I go up on the Heath with a pen and paper and just do highly detailed drawings. I am sometimes asked if I draw from photographs – but I never do that.”

Gardiner’s daughter Emily says the process of selecting which works were to go on display wasn’t an easy one: “My mother, sister and I went through all of them to try and choose what we thought should go in - there are hundreds of paintings.”

Much like David Hockney’s works, which she admires, Gardiner’s works revolve around light and shadow. Her contemplative depictions of the world around her are both moving and evocative, ranging from pen and inks and litho chalk through to watercolours and oils. Gardiner’s style has developed through decades of careful observation of the world around her; her unmissable comprehensive exhibition at Lauderdale House will provide a delightful snapshot into the familiar colours and nature of the Heath and beyond.

Jean M Gardiner’s retrospective runs from September 6 to October 2 at Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park, N6 5HG. Entry free.