Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope

23 February 2018 –  6 January 2019

The first retrospective for nearly a century of the Manchester born painter Annie Swynnerton, a pioneering professional artist who challenged convention in art and life.

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.

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.

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.


Caption: Annie Louisa Swynnerton, The Sense of Sight, oil on canvas, 1895, National Museums Liverpool


Further information
  • Opening times Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 5.00 pm
  • Location Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
  • How to get there: By Metrolink – St Peter’s Square or Market Street stations are the nearest Metrolink stations-both are on the Altrincham and Eccles lines; By Bus – Nearest bus stops are in Piccadilly Gardens or on Princess Street; By Train – to Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Oxford Road or Manchester Victoria stations – take the Metrolink from Victoria or Piccadilly (Altrincham or Eccles direction) to Market Street or St Peter’s Square; By Car – parking is available at the NCP car parks on Chepstow Street, Faulkner Street or Sackville Street – all are within five minutes of the gallery
  • This is a free exhibition
  • Further information 0161 235 8888