Spotlight on an artist: Mary Swanzy HRHA (1882 - 1978)

Mary Swanzy was an Irish master in Modern Art

09/06/2023     Artworks

Mary Swanzy was an Irish master in Modern Art, with her career greatly influenced by her travels throughout the continent and early exposure to abstract art. She was born in Dublin in 1882 to parents, Sir Henry and Mary Rosborough; her father being one of the founders of the  Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital in Dublin in 1895. Her formal education in art and culture had an early start; she attended art classes on the weekends, finishing school in Versailles, and day school in Germany. On her return to Dublin in 1905, she studied under John Butler Yeats, and then life models in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. The young artist could not sit still for long, and in 1906 returned to Paris to study under Antonio De La Gandara.


The effects of Swanzy’s travels are heavily mirrored in her works, reflected in the abstraction in her paintings, contemporary to their movements. It is likely that had she stayed in Dublin, the artist would not have seen art work in these styles during the time of the movement itself. The development of her painting style almost directly mirrors the changing styles in France at the time she was painting each work. Fleeing Dublin during the Irish War of Independence, Swanzy travelled far afield and visited Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Honolulu, and Samoa.


Around 1925, Swanzy returned from her travels abroad and began exhibiting at home once again; displaying three works inspired by her trip to Samoa. Her time back in Ireland however, did not last long, she moved to London and called it her home until she passed away in 1978. The abstract movement became a prominent time in Irish history, thanks to Mart Swanzy, Evie Hone, and Mainie Jellett. The significance of this movement is not only the emphasis of Ireland moving into the 20th century with the rest of Europe and not being left behind in the world of portraits and landscapes, but also the trailblazing female artists that brought it to life.


Lot 533 in the June auction is a small but powerful sketch by Mary Swanzy. The oil pastel on paper shows two figures in a shade of navy blue, both with hidden faces, absent of finite detail. An example of Swanzy's use of definite lines and geometric shapes to create a bold composition; perhaps a preparatory sketch for a larger piece, or maybe the ambiguity in the subject matter is representative of the final work.

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