Painter and sculptor born at Brentford, Middlesex. Swan entered the RA Schools as a painter in 1872, but relocated to Paris in 1874 to continue his training at the École des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Gérôme. Gérôme introduced Swan to the animalier sculptor, Emmanuel Frémiet, and the two studied together in the Jardin des Plantes. In Paris, he also admired the animalier sculpture of Antoine-Louis Barye and Auguste-Nicolas Cain. Swan returned to England in 1879, continuing to study live animals, now at the Regent’s Park Zoo. Although the primary focus of his painting and sculpture was wild animals, he also studied the human form, both in Paris under the anatomist Mathias-Marie Duval, and in London at St Thomas’ and St Bartholomew’s hospitals. Most of Swan’s works are in museums and private collections, an exception being the eight bronze lions (1907) he contributed to the memorial to Cecil Rhodes at Groote Schuur, Cape Town, South Africa. His Boy and Bear Cubs (1901), although part of the Tate collection, is on long-term loan to Holland Park. He was elected a member of the AWG in 1887 (then described as a painter), and ARA in 1894 and RA in 1905. He won first-class gold medals (in painting and in sculpture) at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Although little known today, Swan’s obituarist in The Times wrote of him: ‘It would scarcely be possible to name an English artist whose death would be more keenly felt among those working in a modern spirit, whether at home or abroad; and indeed it may be said that in France, Germany, and America Mr. Swan was probably more admired and more highly estimated than any of his English contemporaries’.
Sources: Armstrong, A., ‘Swan, John Macallan (1847–1910)’, rev. J. Melville, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; Baldry, A. L., ‘The work of J. M. Swan ARA’, The Studio, 22 (1901), pp. 74–80, 150–61; Beattie, S., The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983; Mapping Sculpture; The Times, 16 February 1910, p. 10 (obit.).
Terry Cavanagh November 2022
John Macallan Swan, before 1876, albumen print, coll. Royal Academy of Arts (photo: Elliott & Fry; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)