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EXHIBITION: Annie Swynnerton @ Manchester Art Gallery

  • Manchester Art Gallery presents the first exhibition of Annie Swynnerton's work for nearly a decade
  • Manchester-born artist combined her passion for art and feminist politics

In the first exhibition of her work in almost a century, Manchester art gallery presents a collection of Annie Swynnerton’s paintings. A woman who challenged the convention of art and was the first woman Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

‘Painting Light and Hope’ displays an array of portraits, subject paintings, landscapes and mythological nudes.

Manchester-born artist Swynnerton extensively painted landscapes of Italy, captivating the movements of the sea within her oil paintings. Her accessibility to travel, which was unusual for British women in the 1870/80s, benefited her work. Displayed in the gallery is Swynnerton’s painting ‘Capri’, depicting the view from the largest harbour, Marina Grande, on the island of Capri. Swynnerton sat on a rock in mid-stream every day for three weeks to get the motion of water in the sunlight correct.

Following the exhibition, Swynnerton’s portraits fill the room. The stand-out painting ‘The Letter’ somewhat opposes the colourful, thick, textured brush strokes of the previous paintings. A popular subject in 19th and early 20th century British paintings, a woman would often be seen reading a letter in a well-lit room. Swynnerton however, broke the norm, experimenting with natural light falling into a dark interior – a young girl can be seen reading a letter. Whilst the typical painting depicted hope, Swynnerton’s symbolised entrapment.

Swynnerton’s approach to painting closely correlated with her commitment to feminist politics, displayed in her paintings express female individuality, power and potential. The nude was a staple topic in Academic painting of the 19th and early 20th centuries however, female artists rarely depicted nude figures as the relevant training was not available to them. Swynnerton’s extensive education left her well-prepared to create paintings of this genre.

A stand-out painting of this section, ‘Oceanid’ depicts mythological nymphs who were each patron of springs, rivers, seas and other natural aspects. This Oceanid in question is composed and unfazed by the barely visible sea serpents that are perfectly camouflaged at a first glance in the foreground of the painting.

Walking further through the exhibition, ‘The Debutant’ catches your eye, a stark contrast between dark and light. A young woman dressed in black with porcelain skin has natural light cast on to her body, yet her face remains in shadow. Swynnerton depicts the nervous anticipation when transition from childhood to womanhood – the girl’s first display in an adult society.

Throughout her collection, it is clear to see that the focus of light was crucial to Swynnerton. From landscape to portrait paintings, the capturing of the light on water, mountains, trees, faces and skin brings the painting alive.

Swynnerton’s ability to control her brush strokes is shown between the landscape and portrait paintings. When capturing the view of Italy, Swynnerton used loose and broken strokes, in her figures on the other hand, her control was tight showing her grasp on form.

Manchester Art Gallery’s exhibiton perfectly depicts Swynnerton’s ability to create life-like paintings whether it be of the sea or a child as well as her connection to female empowerment which is demonstrated throughout her portraits.  

In the first exhibition of her work in almost a century, Manchester art gallery presents a collection of Annie Swynnerton’s paintings. A woman who challenged the convention of art and was the first woman Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

‘Painting Light and Hope’ displays an array of portraits, subject paintings, landscapes and mythological nudes.

Manchester-born artist Swynnerton extensively painted landscapes of Italy, captivating the movements of the sea within her oil paintings. Her accessibility to travel, which was unusual for British women in the 1870/80s, benefited her work. Displayed in the gallery is Swynnerton’s painting ‘Capri’, depicting the view from the largest harbour, Marina Grande, on the island of Capri. Swynnerton sat on a rock in mid-stream every day for three weeks to get the motion of water in the sunlight correct.

Following the exhibition, Swynnerton’s portraits fill the room. The stand-out painting ‘The Letter’ somewhat opposes the colourful, thick, textured brush strokes of the previous paintings. A popular subject in 19th and early 20th century British paintings, a woman would often be seen reading a letter in a well-lit room. Swynnerton however, broke the norm, experimenting with natural light falling into a dark interior – a young girl can be seen reading a letter. Whilst the typical painting depicted hope, Swynnerton’s symbolised entrapment.

Swynnerton’s approach to painting closely correlated with her commitment to feminist politics, displayed in her paintings express female individuality, power and potential. The nude was a staple topic in Academic painting of the 19th and early 20th centuries however, female artists rarely depicted nude figures as the relevant training was not available to them. Swynnerton’s extensive education left her well-prepared to create paintings of this genre.

A stand-out painting of this section, ‘Oceanid’ depicts mythological nymphs who were each patron of springs, rivers, seas and other natural aspects. This Oceanid in question is composed and unfazed by the barely visible sea serpents that are perfectly camouflaged at a first glance in the foreground of the painting.

Walking further through the exhibition, ‘The Debutant’ catches your eye, a stark contrast between dark and light. A young woman dressed in black with porcelain skin has natural light cast on to her body, yet her face remains in shadow. Swynnerton depicts the nervous anticipation when transition from childhood to womanhood – the girl’s first display in an adult society.

Throughout her collection, it is clear to see that the focus of light was crucial to Swynnerton. From landscape to portrait paintings, the capturing of the light on water, mountains, trees, faces and skin brings the painting alive.

Swynnerton’s ability to control her brush strokes is shown between the landscape and portrait paintings. When capturing the view of Italy, Swynnerton used loose and broken strokes, in her figures on the other hand, her control was tight showing her grasp on form.

Manchester Art Gallery’s exhibiton perfectly depicts Swynnerton’s ability to create life-like paintings whether it be of the sea or a child as well as her connection to female empowerment which is demonstrated throughout her portraits.  

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