Dr Selena Daly, Lecturer, Royal Holloway, University of London, discusses the shaping of Mary Swanzy’s aesthetic and the influence of the Italian avant-garde on her work. Reflecting on Swanzy’s first-hand encounters with Futurism in Italy prior to the First World War, Daly traces Futurist connections in Swanzy’s work, examining the movement’s reception in Ireland, at a time when Irish society was experiencing huge social and political upheaval.
Dr Selena Daly is Lecturer in Modern European History Department of History, Royal Holloway, and University of London. Prior to joining Royal Holloway in 2018, she was an Assistant Professor of Italian Studies at University College Dublin (2016-18). Previously a Fulbright Scholar and Irish Research Council ELEVATE Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2014-16). Daly is a social and cultural historian of modern Italy, with a particular focus on Italy during the First World War period. My monograph, Italian Futurism and the First World War, appeared with University of Toronto Press in 2016 and was one of five non-fiction books short-listed for The Bridge Book Prize in 2017. Her current research project is in migration history with a focus on transatlantic Italian emigrants during the Great War and the early years of Fascism. See more details here
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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