1853 - 1927 | Rhode Island Historical Artist
Known as an artist of nature, Emma Swan was primarily a self-taught painter who went directly to nature for her knowledge and inspiration. She was born and raised in Providence and it was her father, a cameo cutter, who drilled her in drawing. The young artist met with success almost immediately, becoming an early member of the Providence Art Club and receiving numerous commissions. It was in 1889 and 1890 that she decided to pursue art training beyond her father‘s earlier tutelage. She received professional instruction under Abbott Thayer, one of the leading artists and teachers in the country. Many critics indicated that Swan's “truth and purity of color” was the result of this instruction (Providence Journal 1990). Additional study followed in Europe where she sketched primarily in Germany and Holland.
Emma Swan is best known for her still life and flower paintings. The paintings she produced were thought to be along original lines. Particularly memorable were her paintings of white roses and violets. In an article in the Providence Journal the writer had this praise for her works, “she undoubtedly ranks first among the women artists in Rhode Island and holds an enviable position among leading artists of the country.”(Providence Journal 1900). Even though she enjoyed tremendous popularity painting still life, Swan later switched to primarily painting portraits. In these works she was known for integrating the figure into the background, be it a landscape or room decor.
In Emma Swan’s case, despite her tremendous popularity, her artistic talent has become obscured over time. This can be attributed to the constant demand for commissions that prevented her from painting more challenging bodies of works for exhibition.