2017-11-22-2018-12-12 --- 2018-12-12 10:07:32--18
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LOT :12
Mary Swanzy HRHA (1882-1978)
Estimate EUR : €20,000.00 - €30,000.00
Auction Date : 22-11-2017


Mary Swanzy HRHA (1882-1978)

Le Cathédrale Engloutie

Oil on board, 50.5 x 61cm (19¾ x 24'')


Provenance: With Jorgensen Fine Art, where purchased.


Exhibited: 'Mary Swanzy Exhibition', The Dawson Gallery, 1971, Catalogue No.14.



La Cathedrale Engloutie is an example of Mary Swanzys later poetic work which reveals her concern with myth and fantasy. The style is influenced by the work of William Blake and Marc Chagall and that of artists whose work she encountered in London where she was based from 1926. La Cathedrale Engloutie (The Submerged Cathedral) was inspired by the Breton legend of the drowned city of Ys, said to lie in the bay of Douarnenez. According to legend the daughter of the ancient king of Cornouaille, under the influence of Satan, unlocked the floodgates and allowed the city to be flooded (1). La Cathedrale Engloutie, inspired by the same source, is also the title of a 1910 piano prelude by Claude Debussy, a central part of which evokes the slow and temporary emergence of the cathedral from the water.

In the foreground of the composition there is a still-life of caged birds, doves, fruit and books scattered across a wooden quayside. A cliff edge with fishing boats and nets and a trellis draped in a red cloth frame a view of the bay. Soaring waves crash around the sinking façade of the church. These forms are made out of a cacophony of bright colours that appear to be almost translucent. They suggest a dreamtime scene rather than the horror of a devastating torrent.

The use of birds, a common motif in Swanzys later work, has been read as an expression of her desire for freedom from the world of educated reason (2). In this painting many of the trappings of civilisation are shown to be at risk. She addressed similar themes on the destruction of the world in The Message, (Dublin City Gallery, Hugh Lane, 1945) and The Day of Judgement (Private Collection). Swanzys interest in this kind of apocalyptic subject matter may have been inspired by her experience of the London blitz which forced the artist to flee temporarily back to her sisters home in Dublin.

The choice of subject and the way in which it is painted marks La Cathedrale Engloutie out as the work of an international artist. Swanzy, as Fionnuala Brennan has written is an original painter. She is truly a European painter (3). Having lived and worked for long periods in Paris and London, and spent time in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Samoa, Hawaii and California, Swanzys view of the world was that of a cosmopolitan seeking universal themes and ideas.

Dr. Róisín Kennedy


(1) Sile Connaughton-Deeny, A Century of Irish Women Artists, Jorgensen Gallery, 2007, quoted in Liz Cullinane, Mary Swanzy 1882-1978: An Evaluation of her Career This Our Gift, Our Portion Apart, MA thesis, CIT, 2010, p.139.

(2) Cullinane, Mary Swanzy 1882-1978: An Evaluation of her Career This Our Gift, Our Portion Apart, p.137.

(3) Fionnuala Brennan, An Exhibition of Paintings by Mary Swanzy HRHA (1882-1978), Pyms Gallery, London, 1989, n.p.





Hammer Price : €34,000.00
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