The Society of Dublin Painters is founded in 1920 by Paul and Grace Henry, Mary Swanzy, Letitia Marion Hamilton, Jack B. Yeats, and Harry Clarke. As the original meeting notes have been lost, there is some uncertainty as to which artists are there at the inaugural meeting. Along with these potential founding members, Clare Marsh, E.M. O’Rorke Dickey, and James Sleator are featured in the first exhibition. The Society’s first exhibition runs until September 1 and attracts good reviews. Yeats, Marsh, and Paul Henry are all signatories to the lease of this premises. The group seeks to bring modernism to Ireland, and provide a freer, less academic space for artistic expression and experimentation less focused on accuracy and realism. Its foundation is seen as providing an alternative public exhibition space to the more conservative Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), which does not favour exhibiting Irish modern art. At its 1923 exhibition, Mary Swanzy exhibits one of her earliest cubist paintings, Decoration. The membership always has a large proportion of women.
The Society holds annual exhibitions and one-person shows at its premises on St. Stephen’s Green. Unlike the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Society does not mandate a particular style of painting for inclusion in its exhibitions, with the only limitation on the number of paintings an artist can submit. The members are free to submit paintings to other exhibitions such as the Royal Hibernian Academy, The White Stag Group and Irish Exhibition of Living Art. Membership is limited, with just ten members initially, rising to twelve in 1932, and eighteen in 1934 owing to limited exhibition and studio space. By 1943, the Society is being overtaken by exhibitions like the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and is no longer seen as the premier outlet for avant-garde Irish art. After a decline in membership, the Society ceases to exist by the early 1960s.
(Pictured: “The Post Car” by Jack B. Yeats displayed at the first exhibition, Adam’s Auctioneers of Dublin)
Hone’s most important works are probably the East Window, depicting the Crucifixion, for the Chapel at Eton College, Windsor (1949–1952) and My Four Green Fields, now located in Government Buildings, Dublin. This latter work, commissioned for the Irish Government’s Pavilion, wins first prize for stained glass in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It graces CIÉ‘s Head Office in O’Connell Street from 1960 to about 1983. The window is then taken into storage by Abbey Glass in Kilmainham, Dublin at the request of the Office of Public Works.
The East Window of Eton College is commissioned following the destruction of the building after a bomb is dropped on the school in 1940 during World War II. She is commissioned to design the East Window in 1949, and the new window is inserted in 1952. This work is featured on an Irish postage stamp in 1969. From December 2005 to June 2006, an exhibition of her work is on display at the National Gallery of Ireland. Saint Mary’s church in Clonsilla also features her stained glass windows.
Hone is extremely devout. She spends time in an Anglican Convent in 1925 at Truro in Cornwall and converts to Catholicism in 1937. This may have influenced her decision to begin working in stained glass. Initially she works as a member of the An Túr Gloine stained glass co-operative before setting up a studio of her own in Rathfarnham.
Unmarried, Hone dies on March 13, 1955 while entering her parish church at Rathfarnham. She is survived by two of her sisters. Over 20,000 people visit a memorial exhibition of her work at University College Dublin (UCD), Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, in 1958.
(Pictured: “My Four Green Fields” by Evie Hone, which depicts the four provinces of Ireland)
From 1971 Armstrong lives at 28 Chelmsford Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin, in a house he shares with Gerard Dillon. A bachelor, Armstrong dies in a Dublin hospital on January 13, 1996. The contents of his studio are sold February 3, 1998.
(Pictured: “Glendalough” by Arthur Armstrong, oil on board)
Vanston’s time in Paris leaves a lasting impression on her work, including use of primary colours and a strong Cubist influence. She belongs to what critic Brian Fallon calls the “Franco-Irish generation of painters who looked to Paris,” along with Mainie Jellett, Evie Hone, and Norah McGuinness. Her time spent living in Costa Rica in the late 1920s and early 1930s imbues her work with tropical and highly toned colours. In Dublin in 1935, she exhibits 17 paintings, largely Costa Rican landscapes, at Daniel Egan’s gallery on St. Stephen’s Green. This is the closest thing to a solo show she would mount, with this show also featuring Grace Henry, Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, and Edward Gribbon.
Meeting the English artist Basil Rakoczi, who is also living in Dublin during World War II, leads Vanston to become associated with The White Stag group. In November 1941, she exhibits for the first time at a group show with 24 other artists, including Patrick Scott. One work that is shown at this exhibition is the painting Keel dance hall, which demonstrates that she spends time in the west of Ireland. The most important event staged by the group is the Exhibition of subjective art, which takes place at 6 Lower Baggot St. in January 1944. The Dublin Magazine notes her work at this show as the most effective of the experimental vanguard. This work, Dying animal, is a Cubist work with semi-representation forms rendered in bold colours. In 1945, her work is featured in a White Stag exhibition in London of young Irish painters at the Arcade gallery, Old Bond St.
In 1947, Vanston spends almost a year in Costa Rica where she paints primarily in watercolours. Apart from this period, she lives and works in Dublin, living at 3 Mount Street Crescent near St. Stephen’s Church. At the inaugural Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, she exhibits five works. At the first Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1960, of which she is a founder, she exhibits three landscapes and a work entitled War. She largely exhibits with the Independent Artists, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and the Oireachtas na Gaeilge, and does not exhibit with the Royal Hibernian Academy. Later in life, she exhibits with the Figurative Image exhibitions in Dublin, and is amongst the first painters chosen for Aosdána. A number of her works are featured in the 1987 exhibition, Irish women artists, from the eighteenth century to the present arranged by the National Gallery of Ireland and The Douglas Hyde Gallery.
Vanston dies on July 12, 1988 in a nursing home in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Her work is greatly admired, but has received little by way of critical attention, which may have been to do with her slow rate of output. A number of her works have proved difficult to trace. She was a private person, even refusing to cooperate with the Taylor Galleries in the 1980s when they wanted to mount a retrospective of her work. The National Self-Portrait Collection in Limerick holds a work by Vanston.
(Pictured: “Landscape with Lake and Hills” (1964), oil on paper (monotype) by Dairine Vanston)
On her return to Dublin, Swanzy paints portraits and genre scenes and holds her first show at Mill’s Hall, Merrion Row in 1913. She holds another show there in 1919, where she exhibits nearly 50 pieces. This exhibition is reviewed by Sarah Purser who notes the lack of melancholy and light optimism in Swanzy’s Irish landscapes. Swanzy paints in a number of styles, often reflecting the major art developments in Paris.
After the deaths of her parents, she is financially independent and can travel, spending her time between Dublin and Saint-Tropez during World War I while continuing to paint. She also exhibits with the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1914 and 1916, being elected to the committee in 1920. While visiting her sister who is involved with the Protestant relief mission in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, she paints landscapes, village life, and peasant scenes. These works are shown in the autumn of 1921 in the Dublin Painters’ Gallery with six other artists including Jack Butler Yeats, Paul Henry, and Clare Marsh with whom she shares a studio.
Swanzy begins to travel to more exotic countries from the 1920s, Honolulu around 1923, and later Samoa. As a result, she paints local tropical flowers, trees, and native women, with a palette and style similar to that of Fauvism. She stays for a time in Santa Barbara, California, working in a local studio and exhibiting some of her Samoan work at the Santa Barbara Arts Club Gallery. She returns to Ireland in February 1925 and exhibits three of her Samoan paints at the RHA, and 14 at her one-woman show in the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris in October 1925. Gertrude Stein writes her to congratulate her on her Paris exhibition.
In the mid 1920s Swanzy settles in Blackheath, London, making regular trips to Dublin and abroad. In 1932 Purser holds an exhibition of Swanzy’s work for invited guests in her house. At this time her painting is influenced by orphism and is reviewed positively. Her work becomes more allegorical in later years, with The message in the Hugh Lane Gallery demonstrating this. During World War II she stays with her sister in Coolock for three years. In 1943, she holds a one-woman show at the Dublin Painters’ Gallery, and is also featured at the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art. She is exhibited at St. George’s Gallery, London in 1946 along with Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and William Scott.
Swanzy is made an honorary member of the RHA in 1949, showing with them in 1950 and 1951. She does not exhibit in Ireland for a number of years, but the Hugh Lane Gallery holds a major retrospective of her work in 1968. Following this she holds two one-woman shows at the Dawson Gallery in 1974 and 1976. In 1975 she is featured at the Cork ROSC art exhibition and resumes showing with the RHA. She continues to paint until her death at her home in London on July 7, 1978.
In 1982 the Taylor Galleries holds an exhibition to mark the centenary of Swanzy’s birth. More recently she is featured in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) 2013 exhibition Analysing Cubism. From October 2018-February 2019, also in IMMA, she is the subject of the solo exhibition Mary Swanzy Voyages.
(Pictured: Sunlit Landscape, oil-on-canvas, by Mary Swanzy)