Object type



The Soul's Journey - The Soul's Awakening


Annie Louisa Swynnerton artist


British Symbolism

Place Associated

Italy, Alban Hills (place depicted)


circa 1922-1923


oil on canvas


unframed: 1003.3 mm x 1612.9 mm


This large visionary painting, The Soul's Journey – The Soul's Awakening, in which the soul is represented as a naked anguished-looking female figure floating in a rather barren mountainous landscape, was painted by Manchester artist Annie Swynnerton (née Robinson). Her paintings were Symbolist, suggestive and often political, exploring interior states, particularly reflecting the experiences of women. She was influenced by the works of Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones and the mythological paintings of British Symbolist George Frederic Watts, both enthusiastic supporters of her art. This painting was perhaps her response in maturity to the difficulties she experienced in her career as a female artist. She wrote in 1933, the year of her death: ‘I have had to struggle so hard. You see when I was young, women could not paint – or so it was said. The world believed that and did not want the work of women, however sincere, however good. I refused to accept that. I fought and I suffered.’

When Swynnerton was training women were largely denied the opportunity of drawing from life at art school in Britain. She studied at Manchester School of Art from 1870 where she won medals for painting from the antique and from life, although she only had access to the draped model at this time. She was also awarded a travel scholarship which enable her to make her first trip to Rome in 1874. She then attended the Académie Julian in Paris in 1878-79, where importantly women were allowed to study from the nude. Swynnerton was a founder member and secretary of the Manchester Society of Women Artists set up in 1879 to support female artists and provide opportunities for women to work and exhibit together. She was strong and outspoken, an activist and campaigner for educational, professional and political equality for women. In 1880 she joined the Manchester Society of Women’s Suffrage.

From 1883, when she married sculptor Joseph Swynnerton (1846–1910), Swynnerton lived and worked between London and Rome. She was passionate about the Italian landscape and painted out of doors to capture its intense light and its effect on modelling and form. Her brushwork was distinctively textured, expressive and experimental, her colours bright. The background of The Soul's Journey – The Soul's Awakening is very similar to the paintings she made of the rugged hills of Italy, notably the Alban Hills near Rome in the 1900s. However, the ethereal figure relates more closely to her work of the early 1920s, than to her robust sculptural figures of the 1900s. In 1922, aged 77, she became the first woman to be elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in London since its founding, despite the fact that she had been exhibiting there since 1878. The Soul's Journey – The Soul's Awakening was exhibited in a major retrospective of her work in Manchester Art Gallery the following year and then at the Royal Academy in 1925 (illustrated in The Royal Academy Illustrated, London, 1925, p. 15).

Credit Line/Donor

Gifted by Francis Howard, 1952

ID Number



In storage

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