An­nie Swyn­ner­ton

An un­sung artis­tic hero­ine

Cheshire Life - - Inside -

She was the first woman to be elected an as­so­ciate of the Royal Academy, her work was praised by the likes of John Singer Sar­gent and Au­guste Rodin and her nudes were so dar­ing they of­ten shocked Vic­to­rian so­ci­ety.

Yet, the Manch­ester artist An­nie Swyn­ner­ton is to­day largely un­known.

That is all about to change thanks to Manch­ester Art Gallery which is stag­ing the first ret­ro­spec­tive of her work for nearly a cen­tury.

‘Paint­ing Light and Hope’ fea­tures 36 of her pic­tures span­ning a ca­reer that lasted un­til her death in 1933.

More than a dozen works are from the gallery’s own col­lec­tion with loans from gal­leries in­clud­ing the Royal Academy, the Tate and the Walker Art Gallery, Liver­pool.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also fea­tures a num­ber of rarely seen paint­ings on loan from pri­vate col­lec­tions.

It means that at last there is a show­case for the work of a pioneer­ing pro­fes­sional artist who chal­lenged con­ven­tion in art and life. An­nie was born in Hulme in 1844, the daugh­ter of Ann San­der­son and Fran­cis Robin­son, a not ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful so­lic­i­tor and An­nie sold her wa­ter­colours to boost the fam­ily in­come. With six sis­ters, they took a lot of main­tain­ing. She trained at the Manch­ester School of Art from 1871, win­ning a gold prize and a schol­ar­ship. This al­lowed her to study art in Rome from 1874 to 1876, trav­el­ling there with her friend and fel­low artist, Sal­ford- ed­u­cated Su­san Is­abel Dacre.

They later stud­ied at the Académie Ju­lian in Paris un­til 1880 when An­nie re­turned to Manch­ester be­fore set­ting up home in Lon­don.

How­ever, she ob­vi­ously had a pas­sion for Rome, liv­ing there for ex­tended pe­ri­ods. While there she met sculp­tor Joseph Swyn­ner­ton, orig­i­nally from the Isle of Man. They mar­ried in 1883 and lived pri­mar­ily in Rome but had a stu­dio in Shep­herd’s Bush in Lon­don.

Italy’s im­pact on her as an artist comes through in the vi­brant colours and ges­tu­ral paint of her por­tray­als of women that are a high­light of this ex­hi­bi­tion.

The cat­a­logue for a Tate ex­hi­bi­tion called ‘Ex­posed – The Vic­to­rian Nude’ stated: ‘Rome based An­nie Swyn­ner­ton was one of the most dar­ing fe­male painters of the nude, of­ten shock­ing au­di­ences with her ro­bustly painted fig­ures.’ Her work rep­re­sented women of all ages and walks of life, chal­leng­ing con­ven­tions of beauty con­cen­trat­ing more on cap­tur­ing fe­male power, strength, hope and po­ten­tial at a time when women’s roles were chang­ing.

Her shim­mer­ing nudes, winged fig­ures and por­traits of suf­fragettes show the im­por­tance of fe­male net­works and sol­i­dar­ity to Swyn­ner­ton’s art.

Her por­trait of suf­frag­ist Dame Mil­li­cent Fawcett, founder of the Na­tional Union of Women’s

Suf­frage So­ci­eties, will be one of the pic­tures on loan from the Tate.

Equal rights for women was a cause close to An­nie’s heart. She also cam­paigned for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties for women artists, set­ting up the Manch­ester So­ci­ety of Women Painters, chal­leng­ing the Manch­ester Academy of Fine Arts to open up mem­ber­ship, ex­hi­bi­tions and train­ing to women.

An­nie ex­hib­ited in­ter­na­tion­ally, in­clud­ing at the Sa­lon de la So­ciété Na­tionale des Beaux-arts, Paris in 1905.

This brought her to the at­ten­tion of Au­guste Rodin who praised her work.

Like Rodin, in her later paint­ings Swyn­ner­ton ex­per­i­mented with fig­u­ra­tive abstraction.

Manch­ester Art Gallery’s Rodin sculp­tures Eve and The Age of Bronze is on dis­play dur­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion run.

Ali­son Smith, lead cu­ra­tor of Bri­tish Art to 1900 at the Tate says: ‘Manch­ester Art Gallery’s ex­hi­bi­tion on An­nie Swyn­ner­ton is much an­tic­i­pated and long over­due.

‘As a pain­ter of am­bi­tious fig­u­ra­tive sub­jects and a forth­right cam­paigner for fe­male suf­frage, she forged a bold style of paint­ing that bor­dered on abstraction. Her pow­er­ful com­po­si­tions and vi­brant use of colour were ad­mired by some of the most fa­mous artists of the day.

‘Now we have the op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire Swyn­ner­ton’s achieve­ment in what is the first ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion of her work since 1923.’

Dame Laura Knight be­came a full Royal Aca­demi­cian in 1936, three years af­ter An­nie’s her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Oil Paint and Grease Paint, Dame Laura wrote: ‘We women who have the good for­tune to be born later than Mrs Swyn­ner­ton profit by her ac­com­plish­ments.

‘Any woman reach­ing the heights in the fine arts had been al­most un­known un­til Mrs Swyn­ner­ton broke down the bar­ri­ers of prej­u­dice.’ An­nie Swyn­ner­ton’s ‘Paint­ing Light and Hope’ is at Manch­ester Art Gallery un­til Jan­uary 2019.

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