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Wednesday women … an illustrator

April 10, 2013

I came across Jan’s Journal by Ronald Duncan yesterday morning; it needed a slight repair to the dust-jacket.  As I have become interested in illustrators and particularly women this one took my eye.  It is illustrated by Ada Elizabeth Edith Swanwick (1915-1989), better known as Betty Swanwick, who is or was quite unknown to me; but decided to find out more when I learned that her teacher at Goldsmiths’ College was Edward Bawden who is more familiar. 

Betty was born in Forest Hill, South London; her father, a marine artist encouraged her to paint, when he died she was only 10 years old and she became more determined to become an artist.  While she was at Lewisham’s Prendergast School the teachers were not supportive of her but this was to change at Goldsmiths. Edward Bawden and the school’s head Clive Gardiner helped  her to receive commissions sooner than her contemporaries.  She designed her first posters for London Transport at the age of nineteen.  She was awarded two scholarships, one at Central School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art; she attended both and concentrated on life drawing.  

While still a student, Betty produced illustrated ‘novelettes’. These were social comedies; the characters were wide-eyed marionettes which were a far cry from her later more spiritual works.

 However, they didn’t go unnoticed John Betjeman called Beauty and the Burglar  (1958) ‘strange, startling, funny with a weird beauty’

While teaching at Goldsmiths’ College between 1948 and 1969 Betty continued to work as an illustrator and designer; contributing to journals such as Country Life and the Strand.  She produced murals for venues such as the Festival of Britain and Guy’s Hospital.  Betty began exhibiting in the Royal Academy in 1965 and gained recognition and was elected associate of the Academy in 1972 and seven years later a full academician; during this time she was elected to the membership of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour. Betty died on her 74th birthday in Tunbridge Wells.

Further reading

The Art of Betty Swanwick by Brian Murphy

Betty Swanwick, Artist and Visionary by Paddy Rossmore

The Illustrators : the British Art of Illustration 1800 -1997 

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