This website showcases the work of ANNIE LOUISA SWYNNERTON (née Robinson), the late-19th and early-20th century portrait, landscape and symbolist artist, with additional notes on others in her artistic circle, especially her friend SUSAN ISABEL DACRE.
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Born in 1844, Annie studied art in her home city of Manchester and later in Paris, becoming one of the most well known female artists of her era and in 1922 was the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts. Like many other woman artists of that period, she was became virtually forgotten because of the historic tendency of art institutions, academics and collectors to focus on male artists.
ANNIE LOUISA SWYNNERTON lived at a time when female artists were generally sidelined by the art establishment. Access to training, gallery representation and membership of art institutions were all generally denied to them. It was also a time when women were disadvantaged if they wished to pursue an artistic career, and were expected to paint a restricted range of subjects – portraits, flora, domestic scenes – as well as not having easy access to the financial support necessary.
… women had to create specific training opportunities for themselves, find artists associations which allowed them to increase their public visibility, and fight for their acceptance in a male-dominated institutionalized exhibition scene.Nike Seidl (2020) Database of Modern Exhibitions, University of Vienna.
Annie’s work challenged the conventions of the time. Not only was her work technically equal to her male contemporaries, but she depicted women as independent, assertive and confident individuals, at a time when they were typically portrayed as passive individuals dependent on men to determine their fates or fortunes.
Unable to develop her skills in Britain’s restrictive environment, Annie, with her friend, Susan Isabel Dacre, a remarkable artist in her own right, travelled to the continent to access art school training in the more liberal atmosphere there. She later married the Manx sculptor Joseph Swynnerton, who supported her artistic ambitions, and the couple spent much of their life alternating between homes in London and Rome, as well as spending time travelling.
British galleries consistently rejected Annie’s works for permanent display. While her technical skill was praised, her work just didn’t fit the conventional view of what female artists should be painting or how women should be depicted in art in general. She was, however, being recognized in other countries, with works accepted into permanent collections in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, France and Australia.
Only much later in life did Annie achieve official recognition. In 1922, at the age of 78, she became the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts. (Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser had been founding members in 1768, but were never fully involved in the daily affairs of the institution or elected as such – Annie was the first woman admitted on equal terms to men). Being beyond the normal cut-off age for admission, 75, she was given the title ‘Senior Associate,’ and was listed above all other ‘Associates’ in exhibition catalogues.
Annie has been described as a ‘symbolist,’ ‘British Impressionist’ or ‘Pre-Raphaelite,’ but she doesn’t neatly fit in to any particular category. Influences can be seen, but she very much followed her own, classically-based path, yet was still at times exhibited alongside some of the most avant-garde artists of the day.
Having only a small number of paintings in public galleries, as well as the tendency of institutions and academics to ignore female artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, interest in Annie’s work rapidly diminished after her death.
Annie is known to have produced many paintings in her lifetime. Hundreds of works were found in her studios in London and Rome after her death. Most of these quickly disappeared, sometimes being sold as bundles of lots at auction.
The one sizeable collection of paintings is at Manchester Art Gallery – sixteen works – largely thanks to generous bequests made in the 1920s and ’30s. There are twenty-one paintings in other public galleries across Britain, two each in Australia and Canada, and single works in Ireland and France (See ‘works listed by location’), forty-three altogether.
A handful of pieces are known from private collections and images of another sixty or so can been found in old auction catalogues, newspapers and other publications. Works occasionally appear at auction, typically once or twice a year. The total number of pieces with images on this web site is now approaching one-hundred-and-fifty.
CAN YOU HELP? It would be wonderful to rediscover some of the lost works of Annie and Isabel.
If you own or know of any works by Annie Louisa Swynnerton (née Robinson) or Susan Isabel Dacre, or have any information or observations of interest, do email me:
My sole interest is to display images of the works of Annie and Isabel and shed a little extra light on the artistic scene of the period. All communications are treated in strictest confidence. No personal information regarding ownership or location of privately-owned works is ever displayed on this web site.
- Christine Allen and Penny Morris (2018) Annie Swynnerton Painter and Pioneer. Sarsen Press.
- Susan Thompson (2018) The Life and Works of Annie Louisa Swynnerton. Manchester Art Press Limited.
- Katie Herrington and Rebecca Milner (2018) Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope. Manchester Art Gallery.
The web site Woman and Her Sphere by Elizabeth Crawford contains information relevant to Annie and her circle. There is an archived version of a page relevant to the Millicent Garrett Fawcett portrait by Annie that now hangs in the Palace of Westminster here.
Highly recommended is a visit to Manchester Art Gallery where works by Annie and her circle can be seen on display, Liverpool Art Gallery which has Annie’s Sense of Sight and the Tate which has seven works. Note that only a small number of the paintings held by any gallery are on display at any one time or that works may be on loan to other institutions, but as these are all world class galleries there are always plenty of other wonderful things to see.
About me: My interest in Annie’s work started after visiting the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in 2018 and wondering what other works of are still in existence. I created this web site to share my interest and findings, which has since led to the rediscovery of several lost works and new information about existing ones, as well as an improved appreciation of work of Susan Isabel Dacre.
Note that many links on this web site, such as those to auction sale pages and personal blogs, may be dead. These are deliberately left because they can be useful when later researching information, using sites such as the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (www.archive.org).
Jonathan Russell, April 2023 (www.jonrus.com).
Annie Louisa Swynnerton: born 28 February 1844, died 23 October 1933. Susan Isabel Dacre: born 17 February 1844, died 20 February 1933.