Mary Swanzy (1882-1978) is a unique Irish artist. Her level of achievement, world travel and original thinking is unmatched in Irish art, yet this is the first retrospective of her work in 50 years. Born in the late Victorian era, by her early twenties Swanzy had mastered the academic style of painting. She witnessed the birth of Modern art in Paris before the First World War and her work rapidly evolved through the different styles of the day, each of them interpreted and transformed by her in a highly personal way.
In 1920, against the background of violence of the Irish War of Independence, she left Ireland in a form of self-imposed exile. Traveling first through Eastern Europe and the Balkans, she then sailed to Hawaii and Samoa from 1923 to 24 – literally crossing the globe. While there she produced a body of work that is unique in an Irish context with images that show her proto-feminism and critique of the colonial system. Best known for her Cubist and Futurist paintings, after 1914 she exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon des Indépendants and the Beaux Arts, alongside artists who are now household names. By 1946 she was included in exhibitions with Chagall, William Scott and Henry Moore but after this time her work fell into obscurity.
This may in part have been due to her status as a female artist and indeed she was vocal on issues of gender, remarking; ‘if I had been born Henry instead of Mary my life would have been very different’.
The IMMA exhibition Voyages, 2018-2019, aims to reinstate her as a Modern Irish Master.
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