Bruce Swann was born in 1925 at Brighton, a seaside suburb of Adelaide, and enjoyed sailing at Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club. After his schooling at Pulteney Grammar School, Bruce began work in 1941 for pastoral house and woolbroker Goldsbrough Mort & Co. On his 17th birthday, Bruce joined the Royal Australian Navy and spent four years at sea. His first ship was attached to the American Navy and his second, the Corvette HMAS Bendigo, sailed with the British Pacific Fleet. Even then he was sketching – the sea and boats.
Following World War II, Bruce Swann resumed work as a stock agent, and remained with Goldsbroughs and then Elder Smith, for 33 years. He dealt daily with woolgrowers and cattlemen on properties and in stockyards – in South Australia and the Northern Territory. He travelled continuously, forming long-lasting business and personal friendships and developed a keen insight into the culture of rural Australia, its natural beauty and its unique landscapes and architecture.
Bruce married Clem in 1948, and they had two sons, Steve and Phill. Aged 39, Bruce suffered his first of three heart attacks. Two years later, in 1967, he had a second attack and, while recovering at home for four months, Bruce started to sketch, from memory, many of the places he knew and loved from his country travels.
Bruce Swann’s first exhibition of drawings was held at Rachel Biven's 'Off The Beaten Track' Gallery in Sydenham Road, Norwood. The exhibition was highly successful and Bruce then went on to exhibit pen and wash drawings, followed by watercolours and then oil paintings. After his first two exhibitions at ‘Off The Beaten Track’, exhibitions were held regularly – at the David Sumner Gallery, Barry Newton Gallery at Malvern, “The Barn” at McLaren Vale and Studio Z, Burnside.
In 1974, Bruce Swann left his job as a stock agent to concentrate full-time on his art. He was commissioned to produce a book of architectural drawings for the University of Adelaide for its Centenary Year. These works are held in the University's collection.
His work from across his career can further be appreciated through the nine books which were published, including Swann's South Australia, Swann at Home and Abroad, as well as The University of Adelaide.
In 1976, Bruce underwent open heart surgery. He recovered well and was soon back at his drawing board and easel with enthusiasm to continue painting some of his finest work which was to establish him as one of South Australia's best known artists at that time.
In 1977 two Swann paintings were purchased for the private collection of Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Phillip, and in 1986 a painting of an outback Catholic Church was presented by the people of South Australia to Pope John Paul II.
In the same year the National Parliament House Construction Authority in Canberra, purchased eight Swann drawings of South Australian outback rural scenes and towns to be part of “new” Parliament House collection.
South Australia's participation in the America’s Cup challenge provided Bruce with the opportunity to return to his love of the sea and sailing. The S.A. Syndicate commissioned him to produce a book of drawings and paintings of the challenge races in Fremantle. Bruce travelled to Western Australia four times to capture first-hand the atmosphere of the competition – the challengers’ yachts and the spirit and excitement of the event. He was involved with many of his close friends and supporters, often sketching on the chase boat as the challengers raced.
To be involved and artistically record many of the highlights of that event was one of the happiest moments of his latter years. A large exhibition at the Waterfront Restaurant featured the paintings of the 12 metre yachts in action and the harbour views and the life of Fremantle and was a tremendous success in raising funds for the S.A. Syndicate.
The last one-man exhibition by Bruce Swann was in November 1986 at the Barry Newton Gallery, where the public and corporate support at the opening was so great that there was hardly standing room in the Gallery – and it was a complete sellout. The list of corporate collections with art by Swann within Australia and overseas is extensive, and was growing fast at that time.
Sadly, Bruce Swann died in November 1987, aged 62. Well-known and highly respected throughout South Australia for his ability and warmth of personality, he has left his mark together with a legacy for us all to enjoy. Bruce Swann’s heritage is a portfolio of art works in a wide range of media – pencil, ink, watercolour, gouache, pastel, acrylic and oil.
This website offers a taste of his work, which captured the sweep of Australia's rural landscapes and his life-long love of the sea.
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