Biographical snippets

This is not a formal biography, but contemporaneous accounts and material relevant to Annie’s life arranged in date order. For formal biographies, I recommend:

  • Katie J. T. Herrington & Rebecca Milner (2018) Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope. Manchester City Art Galleries.
  • Susan Thomson (2018) The Life and Works of Annie Louisa Swynnerton. Manchester Art Press Limited.

A commentry on Annie’s life and work, particularly in relation to her portrait of Henry James, written by Inigo Thomas for the London Review of Books, is at (and an archived version here).

2018-06-16 103236 Manchester - Annie c. 1835 (possible early 30s)
Annie c. 1875

21 January 1882: article on the Manchester Society of Women Painters exhibition, in The Guardian newspaper.

1882-01-21 Guardian.jpg

By this date Annie was a well-established portrait and figurative artist. The sum of £105 for three paintings is extraordinary, equalling about £12,000 today.

October 1891 In memorandum of Miss Lydia Becker (1827-1890).

From: The Englishwoman’s Review of Social and Industrial Questions, October 1891.

Lydia Becker (1885-8)… the purchase of the portrait of Miss Becker, by Miss S. I. Dacre, was definitely determined on, and approval expressed of a design submitted by Mr. Swynnerton for the memorial in stone. The design represents an arch of coloured marble, surmounting a bas-relief figure of Miss Becker, a seat to be placed at the base.

The painting was given to Manchester Art Gallery in 1920. It originally extended further below, but the gallery insisted in the picture being cropped at waist level (

1893 Murals for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

From The Englishwoman’s Review of Social and Industrial Questions, October 1891 (

Three life-sized mural paintings have been executed by Mrs. Swynnerton, for the walls of one of the vestibules of the Women’s Building at Chicago. The subject is Nursing, treated under three very different aspects. The first and third pertain to what one may call the gentle and natural aspects of nursing: “Mother and Child” – a madonna-like figure with a young child on her knee – and “Youth tending Age,” a sweet graceful girl looking up with deferential affection to a gentle, yet stately old lady, seated amid rose trees.

The central painting represents the conception of nursing in its terrible, and so to say militant, aspect. The interest centres on the tall, slender figure of Florence Nightingale, as, candle in hand, she makes the round of her wards in the Crimean Hospital, the wounded soldiers in rows to the right and to the left. Yet painful as the subject sounds, the genius of the artist has succeeded in drawing the thoughts of the beholder to the beneficent rather than the ghastly associations of the scene.

All three pictures show remarkable breadth and vigour of treatment, and it is perfectly astonishing to hear that, though the figures are life size, they were begun on February 3rd, and packed for Chicago on March 31st.

The fate of these works is unknown.

1904 (no day/month): Letter from Mary Hunter to Hugh Lane providing an address for Annie Louisa Swynnerton and requesting that he attend an exhibition with her ( Presumed early because Lane unaware of Annie’s address. Some words unreadable.

SELABY, DARLINGTON. Saturday. …….. Mr. Lane, I forgot to say that Mrs. Swynnerton’s address is 2a. Via Montebello Rome. You had better write direct to her as I have no authority from her [to do any] business transactions – I only promised her to do what I could to make the Artistic World look at her work not like Mancini but she is quite … of managing her own affairs & I must not interfere! Only I know she would have let me …….. as one of the …….. your …….. Collection – & I am writing to her tonight saying that she may hear from you – so you can use my name – …….. Mary Hunter. What …….. Collection opens Monday – please go and write to me your impression. P. S. In buying a picture by Mrs. Swynnerton you blunt the pen of George Moore! – for he is a very great admirer of hers & would have bought her landscape had not Mr. Sargent bought it. I hope you will buy both her pictures it is a rare chance – and you can advertise for all you are worth – that Mrs. Swynnerton alone of all women is approved by great men like Watts and John Sargent. The latter says she is too good to be popular.

1904 (no day/month): Letter from Annie Louisa Swynnerton to Hugh Lane, asking to see him again before leaving Rome (

Caffé AragnoVIA MONTEBELLO, 2-E, ROMA. Thursday morning. Dear Sir Hugh, Could we see you again for a moment before leaving Rome? Either here – or we could meet you at the Café Aragno in the Corso or at some hotel according to your convenience and at your own time – It was so very kind of you to call on us very sincerely yours, Annie L. Swynnerton

[1] The Café Aragno, 180 of Via del Corso, was the meeting places of Rome’s artistic and intellectual elite in the early 20th century. It closed in 2014.

8 August 1904: Letter from Mary Hunter to Hugh Lane thanking him for a cheque which she has forwarded to Mancini, and regarding an Annie Louisa Swynnerton painting that Lane wants to purchase ( Some words unreadable.

SELABY, DARLINGTON. Monday 8th. Aug. …….. Mr. Lane, Many thanks for cheques. I have forwarded the one to Mancini …….. – I am so glad you have got “……..” Dublin for your Exhibition. Mind my promise to give Mancinis portrait of [Valero] is dependant on you buying a Mrs. Swynnerton! – You will wish to do so when you …….. I …….. you and she will come …….. you to adorn the walls of Dubin Academy with both! If you bought one she would surely let the other go very cheap – but …….. say for …….. – only. I feel sure you will find her touchingly generous & with the …….. artist nature which as Disraeli says defends its persons from the “fear of men & the love of money.” I shall be curious to hear what you think of the Mancini Valero & the Mrs. Swynnerton at Whitstable – when does your gallery open? – …….. Mary Hunter.

14 August 1904: Letter from Annie L. Swynnerton to Hugh Lane agreeing to donate a picture to the new modern art gallery in Dublin and thanking him for the honour of being asked to contribute Many words illegible.

VIA MONTEBELLO 2E, ROMA. August  19th 1904. Dear Sir, I thank you for the notice you sent me for the proposed Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. I should be pleased indeed to be represented in such a collection and I [esteem it a great] honour to be asked to contribute.  But I hope a sufficient time …….. as I am a slow worker – and from too flattering …….. work …….. yours, Annie L. Swynnerton

29 August 1904: Letter from Annie Louisa Swynnerton to Hugh Lane, granting him the academy picture as requested ( Many words illegible.

VIA MONTEBELLO 2E, ROMA. Aug 29th. Dear Mr Lane, I am so very pleased to have your letters which after some delay have been transferred to me here. I …….. your request & tel you how the Academy …….. of St Martins’ Summer, but I’m ……… It is a pity that I am away just now – there is a picture in my studio “Hebe” for which I am asking £200 a good work – not nude which …….. is the …….. objection by because of its nudity & indeed. I …….. prefer it to be placed somwhere in England. – I hope …….. come to my studio – no 1A The Avenue 76 Fulham R as soon as I come back in the late Autumn. I should be so glad to see you and we should arrange matters more satisfactorily. Very sincerely yours, Annie L. Swynnerton

13 September (year?): Letter from Mary Hunter to Hugh Lane providing her next address and also Mancini’s address, mentioning that she has not heard back from Mrs. Swynnerton and asking him to instruct Mancini of the day and hour of his arrival (

WEMMERGILL, MIDDLETON-IN-TEESDALE. 13th Sept. Dear Mr. Lane, I …….. have not had a word from Mrs. Swynnerton – she must be dead! I enclose a card – as an introduction & have written to Mancini. Antonio Mancini, Via Margutta 2 [1]. Write to him before going & say very exactly day & hour you will go – he is hard to find [2]. …….. yes do …….. him to work on a large Gallery work – Italian Children & flowers – …….. Mary Hunter.

[1] A narrow street in the centre of Rome famous for attracting artists of limited means, consequently became increasingly fashionable and affluent.

[2] Antonio Mancini [1852-1930], a child prodigy artistically, was known for his mental instability, going through periods of obsessive and eccentric behaviour and needing support from his friends at times because of near-destitution. His works were greatly admired by many leading artists of the day, including John Singer Sargent.

11 October 1904: Letter from Annie Louisa Swynnerton to Hugh Lane, giving him the picture for the Gallery for £60 ( Some words illegible.

VIA MONTEBELLO 2E, ROMA. Oct 11th 1904. My Dear Mr Lane, I am dreadfully ashamed to keep for so long …….. at last! Yes you may have St Martins Summer for the Gallery for £60 but may I …….. half the copyright? You see the picture took me three years …….. there is a chance of …….. a ……. more – well one has to live! – You overwhelm me …….. yours too flatters my …….. for my ……. work – I feel as if it had better be left till I can come to it. I thank you a thousand times for the ……. take in my work & once more wishing you you every success …….  Sincerely yours, Annie L. Swynnerton.

There is a record of a cheque, dated 13 October 1904, made out to to “Mrs. Swynnerton” for “Sixty pounds Sterling -” by Hugh Lane.

1907: Letter from Annie Louisa Swynnerton to Hugh Lane, asking to meet up for a chat. Mostly illegible:

Studio. Tuesday night …….. My Dear Mr Lane …….. say 10.30 so that we might have a chat. Very sincerely yours, Annie L. Swynnerton …….. .

18 November 1907: Letter from Joseph William Swynnerton to Hugh Lane, offering him the picture ‘Through the Orchard’ and that if Hugh Lane takes it now, Annie Louisa Swynnerton, will promise to do a sketch for him later on (

1A The Avenue, 76 Fulham Road, S.W. Nov. 8. 1907. Dear Mr. Lane, The …….. picture “Through the Orchard” is well painted in all its parts – …….. pitcher included, but …….. days £150 was asked for this picture, and we should not sell now under £200. We could not afford to give you for some suggestion about Mrs. Matthe…’s little son, but we think it better to hear from Mrs. Matthe…’s herself, so many people seem to wish to have portraits done and then repentt them. In any case my wife thanks you very warmly for your interest in the matter – and hopes you will excuse her not writing herself – she feels unwell – – …….. Very sincerely yours, Joseph W. Swynnerton / over …

“Through the Orchard” must be taken down and cleaned &c.

Undated (presumed to be shortly after 18 November 1907). Letter from Annie L. Swynnerton to Hugh Lane regarding the packing of a picture that she is sending to Dublin. ( Some words unreadable. Words in square brackets uncertain.

Tuesday. Studio My dear Mr Lane, The picture has arrived but no word from …….. my husband, better addressed to the Club? How am I to send … “Through The Orchard.” Shall it be packed here & sent direct to Dublin …….. and I will do what you suggest. Something has to be done to the picture before it can go. It wants touching in parts – cleaning & glazing – I think the [plan should be persued / before loading in a case.]

20 January 1910: Letter from Ian Fenwick to Hugh Lane regarding Mrs Annie Louisa Swynnerton’s address in Rome (

No online image or text of letter, but title demonstrates the Fenwick-Lane-Swynnerton connections. Annie painted various members of the Fenwick family (The Fenwick Portraits).

27 August 1911: Henry James on Mrs Hunter as Queen Elizabeth.


To Mrs William James … Mrs Swynnerton is doing an historical portrait for a decorative competition – the embellishment of the Chelsea Town Hall, I believe: Queen Elizabeth taking refuge (at Chelsea) under an oak during a thunder-storm, and she finds the great oak here and Mrs. Hunter, in a wonderful Tudor dress and headgear and red wig, to be admirably, though too beautifully, the Queen: with the big canvas set up, out of doors, by the tree, where her marvellous model still finds time, on top of everything, to pose, hooped and ruffled and decorated, and in a most trying queenly position [1]. Mrs. S. is also doing – finishing – the portrait of me that she pushed on so last year [2].

[1] This puts in to context paintings mentioned in the studio sale of 1934: Mrs. Charles Hunter as Queen Elizabeth (lot 91), A Portrait of Mrs. Charles Hunter as “Queen Elizabeth” – a study for a larger picture (lot 114).

[2] The date normally given for the painting is 1910, when James sat for the portrait. This letter shows that the correct date is 1911.

1912 An encounter with Sir Alfred Munnings (equestrian, portrait and landscape artist, 1878-1959).

From the autobiographical An Artist’s Life, by Sir Alfred Munnings, published in 1950:

[Referring to a painting of his on display high up on the wall – ‘skied’ – at the Royal Academy in 1912:] I stood in the last room where it was skied, gazing up at it, inwardly cursing the Hanging Committee, thinking of all those hours of work in the blazing sun of the previous year … I became aware of a grey-haired lady who was speaking to me. “So you are the young man who painted this,” she said. Someone then introduced us – the lady was Mrs. Annie Swynnerton, and she told me how much she liked the picture, and that it was full of light. This was generous praise from so fine an artist. The scene – Gallery XI – comes back to me: the rather small, frail, grey woman-painter, full of enthusiasm, speaking of this passage and that in the skied picture. These are thing one recalls at times as the years pass on.

1915 Donation of chairs to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum.

From ‘Review of the Principal Aquisitions During the Year 1915,’ published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, page 36:

Five seventeenth-century Italian chairs were given by Mrs. Swynnerton in memory of her late husband, the late Mr. J. M. Swynnerton. They are of figured walnut veneered on the same wood, and are enriched with marquetry, and were purchased by Mr. Swynnerton from the church of St. Francis at Assisi.

The V&A only has only three such chairs in it’s online database (, but confirms them as ‘Gifted by Mrs. Swynnerton in memory of her husband, Mr. J. M. Swynnerton of Fulham Road, SW London.’


23 September 1917: Florence Kate Upton meets Annie at John Singer Sargent’s house.

In the autumn, [Florence Kate Upton] was invited to the home of John Singer Sargent by his sister, Emily. Another guest that day was Mrs. Annie Swynnerton, who was by this time seventy-three years old and had an established reputation as an artist in England. Sargent admired her portraits of children particularly and recommended her work to his friends and clients. She also did portraits of adults and historical paintings. Florence recorded the meeting in her diary …  To tea with Miss Sargent. Met Mrs. Swynnerton, who has just arrived from Rome. She asked me to go and see her. She seemed to touch blood into my withering painting. It was stimulating to meet her and have her talk about her work. It is an epoch to have met her. (From Davis, Norma S. (1992) A Lark Ascends: Florence Kate Upton, Artist and Illustrator. Pages 148-9. The Scarecrow Press.)

Florence Kate Upton, 1873-1922, is primarily remembered as the creator of the ‘golliwog’  character. In her stories ‘golli’ was one of several toy characters, based on a dolls in her own home, who went on adventures together. Never being patented, other writers copied the character and added racist and derogatory themes, about which Florence expressed great dislike and sadness. Having written and illustrated the stories to help boost the family income after her father’s death and fund her progress through art school, her own last ‘golli’ story was published in 1909, after which she made a career as a portrait artist, eventually exhibiting at the Royal Academy. Florence sadly died at the young age of 49 from complications following a surgical procedure.





16 December 1922: The Duluth Herald [1] on Annie’s admission to the Royal Academy, quoting from the Manchester Guardian.

1922-12-28 Duluth Herald photo
Image with caption is from edition of 28 December 1922.

Woman in Royal Academy. Annie Swynnerton First Feminine Artist Admitted in 150 years – founders of Society in 1769 Accepted Angelica Kaufman, But Since Then Membership Has Been Exclusively Masculine.

Mrs. Annie L. Swynnerton the delightful British painter of children, does much of her work by electric light, which may be considered compatible with London fog and gloom, especially in December. She was working as usual the other night when her door bell rang, and, going down the long flight of stairs from her studio, she opened the door. Three men stood at the threshold, breathless.

Mrs. Swynnerton is the first woman to attain that honor since the time of Angelica Kaufman, who exhibited her “Interview of Hector and Andromache” when the academy was definitely organied [2] in 1769.

“I was amazed,” Mrs. Swynnerton said in recounting the experience. “I said to the men, ‘I can’t believe you.’ One of the men whom I recognized to be a model employed by a celebrated artist reassured me. I gave the men the customary tip, and returned to my studio more surprised than could be imagined.”

“But why should you be surprised?” asked a reporter from the Manchester Guardian, who interviewed the woman painter the next day. “People have been saying for a long time that you ought to be elected.”

“Things that people say ought to happen don’t always happen,” Mrs. Swynnerton said, and she added that academy recognition had been a long time coming.

To talk to Mrs. Swynnerton in her studio, which is filled with evidences of her immediate work, is to get an impression of a vivid and vigorous personality, the Manchester Guardian reporter continues.

On an easel in the centre of the room is the picture on which she is now engaged. It is a large canvas, a sunlit portrait of four children playing on the grass beside a background in a distant landscape, ruined ivy-covered church; white clouds race across the sky; in the …….. [3].

Mrs Swynnerton has had a varied and long experience with child sitters. They are rather a worry because, of course, they must be kept interested; but she says she gets on with them ver well and has been very successful in amusing them with stories while she paints.

Speaking of the academy’s failure for so many years to elect any woman associate, Mrs. Swynnerton said that after all there was no woman sufficiently distinguished to have any claim. The greater success of woman artists nowadays might owe something to their greater opportunities, she declared.

“Encouragement does not make artists, but opportunity helps,” she asserted. “Painting is very expensive, and want of money is a great handicap. If you want models and can’t afford to pay for them you are done.” Nowadays many women artists have distinguished themselves highly, as, for instance, Miss Lucy Kemp Welsh and Mrs. Laura Knight [4]. “I hope that I am only the first of a long series of women whose work the academy will recognise.”

2019-01-06 152123 Manchester 204 Gimped.jpg
Image: Daily Mirror, 15 November 1922.

All through the interview the door bell kept ringing as fresh messengers bearing congratulations arrived. Mrs. Swynnerton said it had been going on since 8 ‘clock in the morning. A group of photographers had camped outside the studio during her absence at midday, and when she returned she found that she was expected to pose not only for the camera but for the motion pictures. The thought of appearing in the movies was too much for her, and she refused. But just then a little girl arrived with a bunch of flowers for her. The painter of children turned to greet the child.

“Delightful.” The film photographer said triumphantly.

[1] A local newspaper of Duluth city, Lake Superior, Minnesota, founded in 1883 and still running (as the Duluth News Tribune) today.

[2] ‘organied’ – spelling error in original document.

[3] Grammar and missing text as in original document – type-setting error.

[4] Lucy Elizabeth Kemp-Welch (1869-1958), most famous as a painter of horses, and Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970), figurative and occasionally landscape artist who became the first full female member of the Royal Academy in 1936.

2018-04-07 140731 Manchester - Swynnerton aged 78 (RA photo)
Annie, aged 78, official Royal Academy photograph, 1922.

July 1923 Exhibition.

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2019-01-06 152202 manchester 208 - gimped

Images: Manchester Art Gallery display at 2018-9 Painting Light and Hope exhibition.

Works on display include many identifiable pieces, plus other works which are otherwise unknown. With three of these unknown works, there is just enough detail in the photograph to make them reproducable as individual images with a bit of computer manipulation: ‘child in a dress,’ a ‘seated lady’ and a ‘landscape.’

2019-01-06 152152 manchester 206 gimped accentuated - child white dress  2019-01-06 152202 manchester 208 - gimped accentuated - figure 1  2019-01-06 152202 manchester 208 - gimped accentuated - landscape 1

1920s: Annie and Kitty Perugini (Charles Dickens’s daughter).

[Source: Gladys Storey (1939) Dickens and Daughter. New York: Haskell House Publishers Ltd. The datable events, apart from Annie’s death, all belong to the 1920s.]

Kitty Peregrini
Kitty Perugini by Charles Edward Perugini, her husband, also an artist.

Mrs. Annie L. Swynnerton (the first woman Associate of the Royal Academy), was a visitor who dropped in from time to time to see Mrs. Perugini [1]. She was a talented artist and an accomplished woman, though scarcely one of whom it could be said she possessed a charm of manner. Indeed, by maintaining the courage of her convictions she was at times embarrassingly outspoken. She had a slight stutter.

One varnishing-day at the Academy, when Richard Sickert had admired her work, he took her to see his own picture. After standing in silence before the canvas he said: “How do you like it?” “Why did you do it?” she inquired. “Because I cannot do anything else, he frankly replied.

Philip de Lázló (self-portrait).

Mrs Swynnerton was extremely patriotic. After introducing her to Mrs. Randall (later Lady) Davidson at a Private View of the Academy, that lady asked me to bring her to tea at Lambeth Palace: during the afternoon she mentioned that the Archbishop was sitting for his portrait; Mrs. Swynnerton inquired who the artist was. “Mr. de László,” replied our hostess [2]. “But he is a traitor!” vehemently declared Mrs. Swynnerton; “he was interred during the war. Why did not the Archbishop choose an English artist to paint his portrait?” [3.] After Mrs. Davidson had recovered from these unexpected and trenchant remarks – reminiscent of accusations made in medieval days within the walls of that ancient pile – she replied that the portrait was a presentation one, and that the choice of the artist rested with a committee.

Mrs. Swynnerton never forgave the Royal Academy for electing her so late in life (she was seventy-seven at the time), and relegating her to the rank of Senior Associate; and she gleefully sent many of her hitherto rejected works to the spring exhibitions, where they found places on the line.

A number of her pictures hang in public galleries, including the Tate Gallery, the Liverpool Art Gallery, the Luxembourg, also in Johannesburg and New York. Sargent was an admirer of her work, and both he and his sister purchased her pictures.

Joseph Swynnerton

She was a Manchester woman and her husband, J. W. Swynnerton, was a sculptor.

Latterly Mrs. Swynnerton’s eyesight failed (Miss Sargent used to write her letters), and she could not see to paint; but she courageously went on with her work, endeavouring to finish canvases begun when her vision was unimpaired. She did not complain of her disability, nor did she ever refer to it nor admit that she could not see distinctly.

Her studio in the Fulham Road was the studio of a true artist, exhibiting many canvases placed against the wall; untidy, dusty and not over-clean; for she would not allow any of her things to be moved, so that they were dusted over and around but never underneath. In this lofty apartment, lighted from a large window kept tightly closed, she slept – somewhat uncomfortably, I fear – a makeshift bed, behind large oi1-painting which acted as a screen.

She did her own cooking. I remember going to luncheon with her, when the repast comprised a chicken – cooked in a hotpot over the studio-stove – when, just as she had lifted the bird, it bounced off the fork into the cinders, but on being retrieved and flicked was found to be good; as was her interesting conversation on art matters, interrupted by a search in all parts of the studio for a bottle of wine, to be discovered behind a picture.

Mrs. Swynnerton was in the habit of putting lumps of coal into the stove with her bare fingers, so that she sometimes turned up at Mrs. Perugini’s with long black streaks down her face, which gave her a most comical appearance; when one would rack one’s brains to find an excuse to remove them without hurting her feelings.

She had a penchant for rich silk dress materials, loved her sable collar and was attached to her amethyst and amber beads, with which she took pleasure in adorning herself. She once remarked, rather pathetically, that it was a pity one so plain should be fond of pretty things.

During an illness – when she lay fighting for breath – attended by her sister-in-law and a charwoman, some of her friends were anxious to carry her off to a nursing-home that she might be more comfortable and receive skilled attention. But she would not hear of it, and said that if she was going to die, she would prefer to do so in her own studio amongst her pictures. She got well.

While crossing a road in Chelsea – not seeing an oncoming motor car – she was knocked down and taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, where it was found her leg was broken in two places. She quite enjoyed herself lying in a ward and being visited by friends, who brought her flowers and dainties to eat. After some weeks she came out into the world again – not much the worse for her accident – using a walking-stick.

She had a studio in Rome situated at the top of a block of flats which she owned. Here she spent several months of the year painting. When at last she realized that she was not strong enough to travel so far, she went to live at Hayling Island, Isle of Wight [4], accompanied by a friend who looked after her. Here she died. If a rebel, Mrs. Swynnerton was a very courageous woman.

2018-06-16 102950 Manchester - Annie with dog (
Annie on Hayling Island.

[1] Catherine ‘Kitty’ Perugini (1839-1929). Charles Dickens’s daughter, an artist in her own right.

[2] Philip de Lázló. Hungarian-born portrait painter, who became a British citizen and married Lucy Guinness (of the Guinness banking family). He was interred from 1917 (the Austro-Hungarian Empire was allied with Germany and therefore an enemy state), but was exhonerated and released in June 1919.

[3] Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, painted by Lázló in 1926.

[4] A error. Hayling Island is in Hampshire, not part of the Isle of Wight.

26 March 1932: Interview in The Star.

The Star March 26th 1932.jpg