THE DREAM OF ITALY (‘mountains’ and ‘clouds’ versions) and HEAD OF A BACCHANTE.

At the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, is ‘Head of a Bacchante‘, signed and dated 1903.

Swynnerton, Annie Louisa, 1844-1933; Head of a Bacchante


The bacchantes were the female followers of the Roman god Bacchus (Greek Dionysus), who could dance to an ecstatic frenzy, heads wreathed in the god’s sacred plant, ivy, and who were capable of doing great violence to their enemies.

The head is the same form as that in a larger work, ‘A Dream of Italy,’ first exhibited in 1899 and with an image known from The Sphere newspaper, 9 December 1922. The subject of the picture, especially considering the title of the Ashmolean piece, appears to be a bacchante.


Image: The Sphere (newspaper), 9 Dec 1922.

This is the ‘mountains’ version. A ‘clouds’ version was recently (May 2018) offered for auction in the United States (, but did not sell.






The foreground details are so similar I suspect it is the same canvas with the background reworked.


The Art Journal, 1899:

‘A Dream of Italy,’ by Mrs. Swynnerton, is a very ambitious composition, and if somewhat dry and incisive, attains a measure of success that, with due deference, perhaps no other woman artist could secure.

The London Daily Mail, 22 April 1899:

Mrs. Swynnerton’s “A Dream of Italy” (213) … The flamboyant figure of a more than sufficiently endowed (physically speaking) Italian peasant girl flaunts herself from out the canvas. Her dimensions are so liberal as to be almost terrifying. The colour, too, is cast in the same generous mould. Clever the painting is, undeniably: but it is too aggressive, too compelling.

Truth, 27 April 1899:

I am afraid that Mrs. A. L. Swynnerton’s “Dream of Italy” (No. 213) must be considered a nightmare. The massive and large-limbed woman, with very little on, who is squeezing the juice of unripe grapes into her mouth, and posing at large, so to speak, in front of a number of papier-mâché rocks, is not in any way suggestive of the Italy we know now.

An earlier painting, entitled Bacchante, ‘with a goat … Deep red and blue garments; background of woods,’ is recorded as being on display in the New Gallery catalogue for 1888, so the subject seems to have been a favourite of Annie’s.

The Dream of Italy (‘mountains’ version):

  • Medium: oil on canvas (assumed).
  • Dimensions: 1050 x 2170 mm (2.3 m²), assumed to be identical to the ‘Clouds Version.’
  • History: before 1900; otherwise known only from image in The Sphere (newspaper), 9 Dec 1922.
  • Location: unknown.

The Dream of Italy (‘clouds’ version):

Head of a Bacchante:

  • Medium: oil on canvas.
  • Dimensions: 410 x 460 mm (0.19 m²).
  • History: signed, but signature (and date?) hidden behind frame; 1903 according to; presented by Mrs. Richard Shute, 1937.
  • Location: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.


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