Painting Light and Hope features 36 paintings from across Swynnerton’s career, including 13 from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection with further loans from public galleries including the Royal Academy Collection, Tate and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The exhibition also features a number of rarely seen paintings on loan from private collections.
Portraits showing the artist’s Manchester connections open the exhibition including Susan Dacre, with whom she co-founded the Manchester Society of Women Painters, and the Reverend William Gaskell, husband of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. The exhibition also brings together landscapes, allegorical works and later portraits revealing her as a continually inventive artist who engaged with current art movements and forged her own independent style shaped by her experience of light and colour in Italy.
Breaking new ground
Annie Swynnerton was elected the first female Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1922 through the endorsement of established Academicians John Singer Sargent and George Clausen. Although this recognition came late for an artist with an international reputation, the ground breaking accolade prompted a major exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in 1923 and ensured her legacy.
Female power, strength and hope
Swynnerton first visited Rome in 1874, living for extended periods there between 1883 and 1910. The impact of Italy comes through in the vibrant colours and gestural paint of her portrayals of women that are a highlight of this exhibition. She represented women of all ages and walks of life, challenging conventions of beauty and capturing female power, strength, hope and potential at a time when women’s roles and opportunities 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 on loan from Tate.
As well as being a successful artist, Swynnerton was a passionate supporter of women’s right to vote for over three decades, signing the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage in 1889 and a claim for women’s suffrage in 1897, both organised by the Central Committee for the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She also campaigned for better opportunities for women artists, setting up the Manchester Society of Women Painters, and challenging the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts to open up membership, exhibitions and training to women. In the 1870s and 1880s, along with with Isabel Dacre, Swynnerton studied art and attended art classes at progressive institutions such as the Académie Julian in Paris, as part of a pioneering generation of women who travelled to further their artistic studies.
Swynnerton 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 will be on display during the exhibition run.
The exhibition is curated by Katie JT Herrington, Freelance researcher/curator and Non-Stipend Affiliated Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of the History of Art, University of York
Rebecca Milner, Curator: Fine Art, Manchester Art Gallery
A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. The first publication dedicated Swynnerton’s work, it features thematic essays and lively texts on each artwork by the exhibition curators.