This website showcases the work of Annie Louisa Swynnerton, 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, later becoming one of the most well known female artists of her era and, in 1923, 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 forgotton today because of the historic tendency of art institutions, academics, collectors and auction houses to focus on male artists. This web site hopes to help redress that issue.
- Annie Louisa Swynnerton.
- Susan Isabel Dacre.
- Royal Academy of Arts.
ANNIE LOUISA SWYNNERTON 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 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.
Major London galleries consistently rejected Annie’s 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.
(Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were founding members of the Academy in 1768, but were never fully involved in the daily affairs of the institution. Annie was the first woman admitted on equal terms with men, although having been admitted as a full member, she was almost immediately reclassified as an ‘Associate Member,’ when it was realized she was beyond the normal cut-off age for admission of 75.)
Annie has been described as ‘symbolist,’ ‘British Impressionist’ or even a ‘Pre-Raphaelite,’ but it is a mistake to try to lable Annie as being part of any particular movement or style, and perhaps a continuation of old, patriarchal attitudes in attempting to attach her to one of the male-dominated art styles of the period. She followed her own path, at times exhibiting alongside some of the most avant garde artists of the day.
With only a small number of her paintings in public galleries, as well as the tendency to ignore the work of female artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, interest in Annie diminished after her death and she has received little attention since.
The one sizeable collection of paintings by Annie is in Manchester Art Gallery – sixteen works – largely thanks to generous bequests made in the ’20s 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.’)
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 works at auction.
Today, aside from the forty-three works known from public galleries, a handful are known from private collections, images of sixty or so can been found in old auction catalogues or other publications and the occasional unknown work appears at auction, bringing the total number of works known by image to 131 so far (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 in general. 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, Isabel and their circles 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.
About me: My interest in Annie’s work started after visiting the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in 2018 and wondered what other works of Annie’s are still in existence. I created this web site to share my interest and findings. People have since contact 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.
After four exciting years, I’ve decided to wind down my interest in the subject as an active persuit, although I’ll always respond to emails and update the site with significant new discoveries as I become aware of them. The web site has become a recognised source of information on the subject, and so I feel a responsibilty to maintain it out of respect for Annie and her work – and for that of her friend, Susan Isable Dacre, another immensely talented but almost forgotton artist.
Professionally, I’m a carer, and outside of work my main interests are photography, hiking and occasionally cooking … and all very much on a shoe-string!
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 (last updated April 2022)