Annie Louisa Swynnerton

1844Manchester, United-Kingdom | 1933Hayling Island, United-Kingdom
Annie Louisa Swynnerton — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Photo: E. O. Hoppe/Getty Images

British painter.

Annie Swynnerton, née Robinson, was still a teenager when she started selling watercolours to neighbours and friends to supplement the family income. Like her sisters, she started taking lessons with William Jabez Muckley (1829-1905) at the Manchester School of Art in 1871. Her watercolours earned her a scholarship and she won a gold medal for her oil painting. She met painter Isabel Dacre (1844-1933) at the school and both women took art lessons together in Rome from 1874 to 1876 and at the Académie Julian in Paris from 1877 to 1880. A. Robinson found inspiration in the works of naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884). Throughout her career, she painted portraits, landscapes, and allegorical and enigmatic figures, playing with light and colour in a manner that showed the influence of Impressionistic studies and Pre-Raphaelitism – George Frederic Watts (1817-1904) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) – and a taste for statuesque nudes.

In 1875 A. Robinson, I. Dacre and Emily and Julia Robinson were part of the nine “Lady Exhibitors” at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, which had been previously closed to women. Despite this, they were not allowed to become fully fledged members and to take classes with models. In 1879 they founded the Manchester Society of Women Painters and organised classes and exhibitions in 1880, 1882 and 1883. In 1884, their efforts came to fruition: the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts opened its classes to women and allowed them to become members. In 1889 I. Dacre and A. Robinson both signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage, which gathered two thousand signatures, including those of one hundred women artists. A. Swynnerton would later paint a portrait of suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett, chair of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

E. Burne-Jones was instrumental in A. Swynnerton’s access to the Royal Academy, where she exhibited from 1879. In 1880 she presented a portrait of I. Dacre with the mention “To my friend”. Her works were also exhibited at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. In 1895 she became the second woman after Henrietta Rae (1859-1928) to be elected into the Academy’s hanging committee, which was tasked with selecting works for the annual salon and giving advice on pieces to purchase for the museum’s permanent collections. She also sent the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition a painting of Florence Nightingale at the Scutari Hospital, where the British nurse worked during the Crimean War.
In 1883 A. Robinson married sculptor Joseph Swynnerton (1848-1910) and spent the next thirty years dividing her time between England and Italy. An Italian Mother and Child, painted in 1886, is reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Rome and Tuscany provided inspiration for a number of landscapes, which she sometimes painted outdoors, and for some of her portraits.

In 1922, with the support of George Clausen (1852-1944) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), she became the first female associate of the Royal Academy of Arts since Mary Moser (1744-1819) and Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807). A retrospective exhibition of her works was held at the Manchester Art Gallery in 1923. She died in 1933 and was buried in the St Mary’s Church cemetery on Hayling Island. Her epitaph reads: “I have known love and the light of the sun.” The Manchester Art Gallery devoted a second monographic exhibition to her in 2018-2019.

Mathilde Leïchlé

Translated from French by Lucy Pons.

Publication made in partnership with musée d’Orsay.
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

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