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.
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 has been virtually forgotten today 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.
Annie’s work, however, was not only 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 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.
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.) It was immediately realised that she was beyond the normal cut-off age for admission, 75, so she was declared ‘Senior Associate’ instead, a special position created just for her, being listed above all other ‘Associates’ in exhibition catalogues.
Annie has been described as a ‘symbolist,’ ‘British Impressionist’ or even ‘Pre-Raphaelite,’ but she doesn’t neatly fit in with any particular style or movement. Influences can be seen, but she very much followed her own, classically-based path, yet was still exhibited alongside some of the most avant-garde artists of the time.
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.’)
There are forty-three works held by public galleries in total, and a handful of pieces are known from private collectors who have loaned their works for public exhibition. 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 known by image today is 132 (including eleven which are only small, blurred images and a few of uncertain attribution).
CAN YOU HELP? It would be wonderful to rediscover some of Annie’s lost works.
If you own or know of any works by Annie (or Susan Isabel Dacre), or have any observations or information of interest, do email me:
My sole interest is to display the diversity of Annie’s (and Susan Isabl Dacre’s) work 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.
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 they may be on loan to other institutions. Both Manchester, Liverpool and the Tate are world class galleries, so even if their ‘Annies’ are not on display, there are plenty of other wonderful exhibits.
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 Annie’s are still in existence. I created this web site to share my interest and findings. People have since contacted me through the site – for which immense thanks always – leading to the rediscovery of several lost works and an improved understanding of some of her known ones. I must emphasise I am an enthusiast rather than an expert, with no special academic training relevant to the subject. Professionally I’m a carer and aside from researching Annie’s works, interests include photography, walking and formerly a bit of sketching in pen or pastel although eyesight difficulties have curtailed this. I have a personal web site detailing some of these at www.jonrus.com.
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, Warwickshire, Jan 2023.
Annie Louisa Swynnerton: born 28 February 1844, died 23 October 1933. Susan Isabel Dacre: born 17 February 1844, died 20 February 1933.