There are two versions of A Dream of Italy, a ‘mountains’ version known from a 1922 newspaper illustration and a Brookly Museum archival image, and a ‘clouds’ version known from a recent auction. The latter appears to be the same work with the background and minor details of the figure reworked.

The reworking of the background must have happened after the work left the Brooklyn Museum collection in 1947. It is assumed here that it is the same canvas, although it could theoretically be a duplicate piece by Annie, although the exactness of the fine detail make this seem unlikely.

The Head of a Bacchante is a figuratively related work and so is also listed here.

A DREAM OF ITALY (mountain version).


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

Images: private archival image.

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.

London Evening Standard, 2 March 1910:

In the Central Gallery Mrs. Swynnerton’s “A Dream of Italy,” [and works by Miss Bessie MacNicol] make everything else look a little commonplace. “A Dream of Italy,” the life-sized, semi-nude figure of a woman stepping down the mountain side, has a combination of dignity and beauty that can only be called classical … full of joy

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.

The Guardian, 22 April 1899.

No one can help seeing Mrs. A. L. Swynnerton’s lifesize nude subject entitled “A Dream of Italy.” It is a picture one could see with distinctness a hundred yards away. The iron modelling and metallic draperies suggest that sculpture rather than painting would have been the right medium. Anything less like a dream it would be impossible to imagine.

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.

A DREAM OF ITALY (clouds version).



Images: www.invaluable.com.

The two canvases overlain:


NOTE: some newspaper articles state the Metropolitan Museum of New York once owned the painting, but this appears to be an error – the Met kindly searched their archives and have no record of the work ever having been housed or exhibited there. (E.g., Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 13 Jul 1923; Belfast Telegraph, 7 Feb 1924.)

[Sincere thanks to E_ M_, The Metropolitan Museum of New York and the Brooklyn Museum for their help in tracing the history of this work.]


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

The head is very similar to that in A Dream of Italy, which also suggests that the figure in that composition is 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.

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

Head of a Bacchante:

  • Media: oil on canvas.
  • Dimensions: 410 x 460 mm (0.19 m²).
  • History: may be the “little Bacchante head” exhibited at Earl’s Court, 1900 (Gentlewoman, 18 Aug 1900); signed, but signature (and date?) hidden behind frame; 1903 according to artuk.org; presented by Mrs. Richard Shute, 1937.
  • Location: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Management note: ADOI update List of works page with bullet data.


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