'She was one of the last surviving artists with first hand experience of Paris in the first thrilling decades of the [twentieth] century when new and almost immediately discarded styles lay thick under foot.' (David Lee, Irish Arts Review, October 1986)
An experimental and innovative twentieth-century artist, Mary Swanzy was one of the first in Ireland to embrace modernist painting and a cubist style. Sunlit Landscape is amongst the most accomplished of her cubist landscapes to ever appear at auction, and in the warmth of the colour palette, the sophisticated flow of the composition, and the innate sense of shape and form, it encapsulates all the best aspects of the artist's work.
Swanzy's career spanned an impressive period (she painted until she was 96) and she was a truly accomplished international artist; she exhibited at the Salon des Independants in Paris alongside Signac and Delaunay, was represented in London alongside Moore, Chagall and Braque, and travelled widely visiting California, Honolulu, Samoa, Italy and Czechoslovakia.
Born in Dublin in 1882, Swanzy was the second of three daughters of Sir Henry Swanzy, the ophthalmic surgeon. Following her early studies in May Manning's studio in Dublin (where she met Jack B. Yeats), she moved to Paris to train first in 1905 and later in 1906 at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and the Academie Colarossi. It was during this time as a student that she would have experienced the avant-garde developments of the Parisian school, and this is certainly reflected in the bright colours and curved yet architectonic forms of the present work. Not only were the cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque just coming to the forefront, but she would have witnessed the 1905 Salon d'Automne first hand, the exhibition in which the Fauves were first labelled as the 'Wild Beasts'. It is likely that she would also have visited Cézanne's memorial exhibition in 1907 and she certainly attended Gertrude Stein's famous soirees, and was blown over by the host's impressive modern art collection, particularly the paintings by Gauguin.
The present work is at least in parts indebted to these early influences; in particular, the peaceful environment is reminiscent of the calm atmosphere imbued in Cézanne's series of landscapes at Mont St Victoire, executed towards the end of his life. However, Sunlit Landscape is in fact part of a series of later lyrical Provencal cubist canvases Swanzy produced following a stay at Grasse in the South of France in the winter of 1926-1927. The dynamic effect, the warm pinks and reds, and the vibrant blue-greens reflect Swanzy's experience of the local colour. Additionally, the steep upward thrust of the landscape, the planar curving shapes, and the sense of energy and movement relate to the style of Robert Delaunay, Umberto Boccioni and André Lhote, the salon cubists she exhibited alongside following a visit to Italy in 1914.
Swanzy's cubist works were first seen in Dublin in 1932, when her friend and fellow artist Sarah Purser invited her to exhibit at Mespil House. The press enjoyed the exhibition, especially her skilled draughtsmanship and sense of colour. It was noted that she combined colour with rhythm to form 'applied cubist designs' in which natural forms were 'sacrificed to metrical effect' (Irish Times, 9 March 1932).
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