Annie Louisa Swynnerton

Portrait of Miss Elizabeth Williamson


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Not on display

Annie Louisa Swynnerton 1844–1933
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 360 × 320 mm
Presented by Chris Thomson, in memory of Susan Thomson 2013


Portrait of Miss Elizabeth Williamson 1906 is a small signed portrait in oil on canvas, showing the head and shoulders of a young girl by Annie Louise Swynnerton. She wears a high-necked thick blue sweater painted with thick brushstrokes. Her blonde should-length hair is loose and her cheeks flushed. She turns to the viewer with an open, carefree smile. The blue of the jumper is picked out in the sitter’s pale blue eyes and the yellow of hair in her eyebrows and facial highlights. Despite this naturalism of this painting, the use of reds, yellows and the blues create a bright, decorative effect. The work is a lively study for the life-size equestrian portrait Miss Elizabeth Williamson on a Pony 1907 (Tate N05019), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1934, and was presented to Tate by Mrs F. Howard in 1939, six years after Swynnerton’s death. Prior to entering Tate’s collection, this study was owned by the art historian Susan Thomson, an expert on Swynnerton.

This painting exhibits Swynnerton’s luminous, bravura style characteristic of the avant-garde aestheticism and impressionism with which she was associated. It was most probably made from life. Such sketches were part of Swynnerton’s method for capturing portraits that were highly individualised in their features and lively in their expression. The sitter was the grand-daughter of Mrs Charles Hunter. Mrs Hunter owned the Villa Barbaro in Venice and was a collector and close friend of writers Henry James and Edith Wharton and artists such as Swynnerton and John Singer Sargent. Elizabeth’s mother, Phyliss, was one of the three women in The Misses Hunter painted by Sargent in 1902 (Tate N04180).

Annie Louisa Swynnerton (neé Robinson) became the first woman to be elected an associate of the Royal Academy for nearly 150 years (since Angelica Kaufmann in 1768). Swynnerton was an active feminist and suffragette (see Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928, Abingdon 2002, pp.951–2). In 1876 she and fellow artist Susan Dacre founded the Manchester Society of Women Painters. She contributed to the British aesthetic and impressionist movements, exhibiting at the avant-garde Grosvenor Gallery in London as well as the Royal Academy. She associated with artists including George Frederic Watts, Edward Burne-Jones and Sargent, who donated Swynnerton’s Oreads exhibited 1907 to Tate in 1922 (Tate N03619). She also had success on the continent and lived in Rome between 1883 and 1910 with her husband, the sculptor Joseph Swynnerton.

Further reading
Portraits by Mrs Swynnerton, exhibition catalogue, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester 1924.
The Remaining Works of the Late Annie L. Swynnerton, A.R.A. and the Artistic Effects of the Studio ... Also Modern Pictures and Drawings: From Other Sources, auction catalogue, Christie’s, London, 9 February 1934.
Deborah Cherry, Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists, Abingdon 1993, pp.50–2, 69, 93, 104.

Carol Jacobi
September 2013

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