Letters from Annie. “Through” the Orchard. Elizabeth Williamson. A note on dates. 1934 catalogue online. R.A. admission comments. Manchester exhibition.

THANKS TO ALASTAIR SWINNERTON for identifying a number of letters relating to Annie in the Irish National Archives website. The handwriting is often difficult or impossible to read, but I’ve done my best to provide transcriptions in the ‘bio‘ section and this has produced a couple of interesting findings as well as throwing light onto the daily life of Annie while living in Rome.



THROUGH THE ORCHARD is the correct title for that picture. I had been using Thro’ the Orchard, the title given in a newspaper of the time, but both Annie and her husband, Joseph, use ‘Through’ in their letters.

IN A PASSAGE IN A BOOK ON HENRY JAMES, he is quoted commenting that Annie was still working on his portrait in 1911. The usual date given for the finishing of the picture is 1910, the year he sat for the portrait.

I often wonder how accurate dates for paintings are. Unlike watercolour, oil paint dries not by evaporation but by the oil oxidising slowly until it goes hard. This can take months, during which time it can be removed and the area reworked. Unless there’s a specific and reliable statement somewhere, even a picture with the date painted on it may well have been ‘improved’ by the artist later on – perhaps years later – provided it had not been varnished or hung in a permanent collection, although even then … Annie mentions in one letter how Through the Orchard “wants touching in parts,” fifteen or twenty years after the date it was officially finished. Looking at An Italian Mother and Child this weekend, some areas appear to have been repainted or even have been in the process of being redrawn, and not to the same level of skill as the original work. Did Annie try to retouch or alter parts the painting later in life, when her eyesight was letting her down?

Swynnerton, Annie Louisa, 1844-1933; Miss Elizabeth Williamson on a Pony

THE PAINTING MISS ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON ON A PONY has been renamed ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON AT WEMMERGILL on this site, as that is the title given to the painting in Academy Notes 1906, the year the picture was first exhibited (archive.org).

THE CATALOGUE OF THE POSTHUMOUS STUDIO AUCTION OF 1934 is now available online at http://archive.org/details/1934-02-09-Annie-Swynnerton-Catalogue-PDF where it can be read there or downloaded.

1934-02-09 Annie Swynnerton catalogue 01.jpg

COMMENTS BY ANNIE on her admission to the Royal Academy, as quoted in the Duluth Herald, 16 December 1922, have been added to the ‘bio‘ page.

I visited the Painting Light and Hope exhibition of Annie’s works in Manchester again this weekend – the exhibition ends in January 2019. I look forward to updating the individual image pages over the coming week. On reflection, I’ve decided to publish large-scale images on this site so that others – people who’d never have the opportunity of seeing her paintings up close – can study the works to the best degree that I am able to present them, so long at the image is on public display with no obvious copyright notices. I’ll post a list of updated pages next Sunday.

Some paintings by Sylvia Pankhurst, a friend of Annie’s, were previously also on display but have been taken down. A shame, because they were very interesting. Hopefully I’ve saved some reasonable quality photos from a previous visit and will be able to put them online here as part of the ‘Swynnerton circle.’

Jonathan Russell

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