Lot 306
  • 306

Mary Swanzy, H.R.H.A.

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Mary Swanzy, H.R.H.A.
  • Sun on the Sails
  • signed l.l.: SWANZY
  • oil on canvas
  • 76 by 63.5cm., 30 by 25in.


Taylor Gallery, Dublin, where purchased by the present owner in the 1970s


Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, The Irish Impressionists,  1 October - 30 November  1984

Catalogue Note

Armed with brush and palette, Mary Swanzy burst onto the Irish art scene with the bold, spirited defiance of a young suffragette. By the late 1920s, she was causing quite a stir. Her radical work shook Dublin’s conservative art world, which was still resistant to artistic developments on the continent. Modernism had swept through Europe and Swanzy foresaw how radical, contemporary styles such as Impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism would free the palette and revolutionise Irish art. The Irish establishment may have closed the doors to Modernism and artistic innovation but Swanzy, believing like Jack B. Yeats that Modernism would ‘knock the handcuffs of all painters’, set out to reopen them (quoted in S.B. Kennedy, Irish Art & Modernism 1880-1950, 1991, p. 27).                                                                                                                                                                                                                Dreaming of the avant-garde Swanzy left Ireland in 1905 and entered the Parisian ateliers of De la Grandara and Colarossi. Soirées and scandal awaited. That year, the Fauves, the ‘wild beasts’ of modern art, caused a sensation at the Salon d’Automne with their experimental works, and Swanzy mingled with the very modern Gertrude Stein. Her home was a haven for avant-garde art  and it was here, at Stein’s famous Sunday soirées, that Swanzy first encountered French Modernism. Works by Cezanne, Braque, Gauguin and Matisse adorned her walls and Swanzy was struck: ‘you would go in and be allowed to wander around and look at all these things’ (Pyms Gallery, Mary Swanzy (1882-1978), Ditchling Press, 1986, p.15).

Swanzy’s Sun on the Sails appears on the market for the first time and reveals her advanced grasp of modernist movements in Paris, with swirling shards of colour creating a dynamic, Cubist composition. With every glimpse, subtle spatial shifts give the illusion of motion as interlocking planes disturb the pictorial surface, seducing the eye. There is life in every facet and reflection, and every glance reveals something new. In her style we see the shadow of Robert Delaunay, and in her crimson, billowing sails we see touches of André Lhote, where her sunlit harbour mirrors that of Lhote’s Le Port de Bordeaux. Yet, what set her apart was her bold, bohemian spirit. Swanzy’s defiant brush pushed boundaries, troubled tradition and, with time, prised open the doors of some of Dublin’s most conservative galleries. Indeed, it was only by misbelonging that Swanzy truly found her place.