Mary Swanzy


b. 1882, Dublin

Former art critic of the Irish Times, Brian Fallon, rates Mary Swanzy the best female Irish painter. Born in Merrion Square in 1882, she was the daughter of distinguished eye surgeon Sir Henry Swanzy. At the age of fifteen Swanzy left Ireland for Paris where she studied art at the Lycée in Versailles, the later in Freiburg, Germany before returning to Dublin to the RHA school, where she was mentored by Nathaniel Hone and Walter Osborne. An admirer of Cubism as well as the art of John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser, Swanzy returned Paris where she exhibited at the Autumn Salon with such luminaries as Pablo Picasso and Amadeo Modigliani. On her return to Dublin, encouraged by her father, she painted portraits for a few years but her encounter with Cubism and the art of the Fauves persuaded her to paint modern landscapes and imaginative, figurative compositions in a very individual style that lasted for the rest of her long life.

She was a traveler, visiting the South of France and Italy annually where she painted many landscapes in the open air, including Cote d’Or Village which was one of her personal favourites and which hung on the walls of her home in Blackheath for many years. In it she captures the lush summer landscape of rural France with a village nestling in the distant trees with true veracity and passion. Later, she traveled to Eastern Europe and on to Samoa and Hawaii where she painted powerful tropical forest scenes with figures, which she exhibited in the Untied States.

Mary Swanzy had a unique sense of colour and a formidable talent that was nurtured through the observation of other contemporary masters such as Marc Chagall, Paul Cezanne and Jack B. Yeats, as well as earlier masters. Her vision was wide-ranging and solitary. She considered herself as important a painter as Jack B. Yeats. Her retrospective Exhibition at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin in 1968 was a revelation but her reputation has further distance to travel as new generations encounter her remarkable talent.