This website showcases the work of ANNIE LOUISA SWYNNERTON, the late-19th and early-20th century portrait, landscape and symbolist artist, presenting all works for which images can be found from visits to galleries, private collections, auction houses and sources on the ’net.
Obituary from The Annual Register, 1933: Mrs Annie Louisa Swynnerton, first woman Associate of the Royal Academy … was born at Kersal, near Manchester, in 1844 … After a short term at the Manchester School of Art, she studied in Paris and Rome. She first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1879, but it was not until 1922, when she was in her seventy-eighth year, that she was finally elected an Associate. She was greatly encouraged in her early years by John Sargent, who bought her pictures, including “The Oreads,” which was exhibited at the Academy in 1907, and which Sargent presented to the nation. Mr. George Clausen bought her “New Risen Hope,” exhibited in 1906, and gave it to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Her work always possessed a vital quality, and this was particularly the case in her pictures of children in the open. She also painted allegorical and symbolical subjects. Her “Mater Triumphalis” was bought by Rodin, for the Luxembourg Museum, and “A Dream of Italy” was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum, New York … She continued painting up to within a few months of her death, in spite of age and failing eyesight. Mrs. Swynnerton met her husband, Mr. Joseph Swynnerton, a Manx sculptor, while in Rome; they were married in 1883.
Annie lived at a time when female artists were generally sidelined by the male-dominated art establishment. Access to art school training, gallery representation and membership of art institutions was generally denied to them. It was also a time when women were at a great disadvantage if they wished to pursue an artistic career, being expected to paint a restricted range of subjects – portraits, flora, domestic scenes – as well as not having easy access to the financial support necessary.
Annie did things differently. Her works were not only technically equal to those of her male contemporaries, but she depicted women as independent, assertive and confident individuals, at a time when they were typically portrayed as passive, idealised beauties and very much dependent on men to determine their fates or fortunes.
Unable to develop her skills in Britain’s restrictive environment, Annie and her friend, Susan Isabel Dacre, moved to the continent to access art school training in the more liberal atmosphere there. She later met and 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 around Italy, and other parts of Europe.
(Susan Isabel Dacre was a gifted artist in her own right. Her paintings are here.)
Major London galleries consistently rejected her works for permanent display. While her technical skill was praised, her paintings just didn’t fit in with the conventional view of what female artists should be producing or how women should be depicted in art in general.
Only later in life did Annie achieve official recognition. In 1923, at the age of 76, she become the first woman to be admitted into the Royal Academy of Arts.* She had, however, long since been recognized in other countries, with works having been accepted into the permanent collections of galleries in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, France and Australia.
With only a small numbers of finished paintings in public galleries, interest in Annie’s works diminished after her death and she has received little academic attention since. The one sizeable collection of her paintings is at Manchester Art Gallery – sixteen works – largely thanks to generous bequests made in the 1920s and ’30s.
Annie is known to have produced hundreds of paintings in her lifetime. Almost three-hundred works, mostly unfinished, were found in her studio after her death. Literary references comment on her total devotion to her work and also that she produced many portraits as a way to boost the household income. Today, only forty-two works by Annie exist in public collections – thirty-seven in the UK and five overseas. A small number are also known from private collections.
Images of a further fifty or so can been found in old auction catalogues, newspapers and other publications, bringing the total number of works by Annie for which there are images known to a little over one-hundred (some are only small, blurred images).
Apart from being beautiful to look at, Annie’s works hint at a rich internal dialogue. Like other experimental artists, Annie developed her own language as she progressed through her career, expressing how she saw the world, but there are too few works known to really understand what emotions and messages she was expressing.
It would be wonderful to rediscover some of Annie’s lost work … CAN YOU HELP?
If you know of any works by Annie (or her friend, Susan Isabel Dacre), or believe you may own one, email me … firstname.lastname@example.org … with an image of the work included if possible. My sole interest is to display the diversity of Annie’s work on this web site to help shed a little extra light on her artistic career and encourage interest in her works. All communications are treated strictest confidence. No personal information regarding the ownership or location of privately-owned paintings 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.
Recommended is a visit to Manchester Art Gallery, where works by Annie and her circle can be seen on display, and Liverpool Art Gallery which has Annie’s Sense of Sight. Note that only a small number of the paintings held by any gallery are on display at any one time and also that works may be on loan to other galleries, so contact the gallery in question before visiting to check what is on display to avoid disappointment. Both Manchester and Liverpool are world class galleries, so even if their ‘Annies’ are not on display, there are plenty of other excellent exhibits to see.
Thank you for visiting my site. It is entirely self-funded and costs a couple of hundred pounds a year at least to run (web hosting fees, gallery donations, auction house and archive search fees, not to mention travel expenses visiting locations). If you would like to help, you are welcome to . . .
ABOUT ME: I am not an accredited researcher, I just enjoy pursuing the works of Annie and her circle out of personal interest. An amateur artist and photographer, here are a few of my sketches and photos:
Jonathan Russell, March 2019.