Mary Swanzy
Irish Abstract Artist, Landscape Painter, Portraitist. Biography, Paintings.

Mary Swanzy HRHA (1882-1978)

One of the earliest abstract painters in the history of Irish art, the figure painter, landscape artist and portraitist Mary Swanzy was born in Dublin. Her father was the eminent surgeon Sir Henry Rosborough Swanzy. In 1900, after several years of private tuition in drawing and fine art painting, she enrolled in May Manning's art classes, where she also learned from John B Yeats.

There followed evening classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now the National College of Art & Design), painting tuition at the Royal Hibernian Academy and a further period of drawing and painting in Paris. in 1905, she returned to Dublin where she exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA).

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In 1906 she returned to Paris to spend time with the portrait painter Antonio De La Gandara. She also studied at L'Academie de la Grand Chaumiere, and with Colarossi. During this time in Paris she saw and absorbed much of the coming abstract art, including works by Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Derain, Laurencin and Gauguin, and formed a lifelong friendship with the portraitist Sarah Purser. Mary Swanzy showed again at the RHA in 1906 - a portrait of her father, described by Nathaniel Hone the Younger as "the best picture painted in Dublin for thirty years" - going on to show more than 50 works over the next 70 years. In 1913, she had her first solo exhibition at Mill’s Hall, Dublin. From this point, Mary Swanzy's painting range widened and very gradually evolved through several styles, including Cubism and Surrealism. Indeed, she is considered by most art experts to be the first Irish Cubist, preceding Evie Hone and Mainie Jellet. In 1926, she settled in Blackheath, south London, where she lived for the rest of her life.


Mary Swanzy enjoyed a number of solo exhibitions and retrospectives during her career - most notably in 1968 at the Hugh Lane Art Gallery, Dublin - and several one-person exhibitions in Paris. Swanzy also took part in many important group exhibitions including: the RHA, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and a major exhibition of modern European art at St George's Gallery, London, in 1946, along with Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Maurice de Vlaminck and other prestigious modern artists. In 1949, she was elected Honorary RHA. She died in 1978 at her home in Blackheath, London, at the age of 96. Despite not achieving her due recognition outside Ireland, she is regarded as one of the most important painters of the twentieth century visual arts in Ireland.


Mary Swanzy's paintings are represented in all major public collections in Ireland, including: Ulster Museum, Belfast; Crawford Municipal Gallery, Cork; Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; Limerick City Gallery of Art (inc. National Collection of Contemporary Drawing) and National Self-Portrait Collection; and others.

Most Expensive Painting By Mary Swanzy

The auction record for a work by Mary Swanzy was set in 2006, when her semi-abstract painting, entitled Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda and Bridge, was sold at Whytes, in Dublin, for €180,000.

More Information About Visual Arts in Ireland

• For details of other abstract painters and sculptors, see: Irish Artists: Paintings and Biographies.
• For more about pioneer Cubists like Mary Swansey, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more about abstract art, see: Homepage.

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