Primavera and the Sleeping Gardener, 1978
Betty Swanwick RA (1915 - 1989)
RA Collection: Art
In a garden during Winter, with bare trees in the background and a bonfire in the centre middleground, a gardener asleep on the ground dreams of Spring. The figure scattering flowers from a basket is loosely based on the figure of Flora in Botticelli's Primavera (1482; Uffizi Gallery, Florence). The floating body with oversized hands and feet is typical of Swanwick's graphic mythology. Her elephantine figures have been described as 'like great oaks in a gale that none the less move with the fluidity of swimmers'. This imaginative pencil drawing was received as the artist's Diploma Work in 1979 following Swanwick's election in the category of draughtswoman on 9 May of this year.
The pencil was Swanwick's principal tool; the illustrations for her novels Hoodwinked (1957) and Beauty and the Burglar (1958) are evidence of her contentment with monochrome, although she also used watercolour and gouache. During the 1970s, highly detailed drawings like 04/159 - which are finished works in their own right - were sometimes used as preparatory cartoons for watercolours, although this doesn't appear to have been the case with Primavera and the Sleeping Gardener.
Swanwick had drawn from childhood - apparently using pencils salvaged from shipwrecks off the Scilly Isles by her mother - and inspired by her father, the artist Henry Gerard Swanwick. She studied under Edward Bawden and tutored in illustration at Goldsmith's, later succeeding Bawden as Head of Design there. She also taught occasionally at the Royal Academy Schools.
Swanwick's output was relatively small; she produced only around half a dozen paintings a year. However, the planning and preparation for each one was lengthy and meticulous with nothing that was unintentional in the final result. Swanwick commented: 'There is nothing extra in those pictures that is of no consequence. I have to be most economical and spare myself nothing. I have to put everything exactly right.' Her pictures were rarely shown in public and she didn't begin submitting work to the annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition until 1965.
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