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Smith, Treania Helen Lindsay (1901–1990)

by Eileen Chanin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Treania Helen Lindsay Smith (1901-1990), gallery owner and artist, and Lucy Howell Swanton (1901-1981), gallery owner and art patron, jointly ran the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney. Treania Smith was born on 23 December 1901 at Clayfield, Brisbane, only child of Scottish-born parents Edwin Evan Smith, architect, and his wife Margaret Mackenzie, née Lindsay. In her formative years Treania was surrounded by artist friends of her father’s, among them Max Meldrum, whose school in Melbourne she joined. She also studied at Brisbane Central Technical College under L. J. Harvey, and took sculpture classes at the Melbourne Working Men’s College. In 1928 she went to London, and then to Scotland, where she studied at the Edinburgh College of Art with the monumental sculptor Alexander Carrick and the landscapist William Gillies.

In the early 1930s Smith returned to Australia. She exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society, and the Society of Artists, Sydney (1932-49). Studying life modelling (1932-34) in Rayner Hoff’s class at East Sydney Technical College, she met Beryl Young, whose father, John Young had established Macquarie Galleries in 1925 with Basil Burdett. There, Smith held her first solo exhibition in 1934 and exhibited again the following two years. Shortly afterwards she became assistant to John Young. In 1936 she was elected a member of the Contemporary Group, with whom she exhibited into the 1950s. She exhibited with Mary Edwards, Lloyd Rees and M. J. MacNally in 1937.

Lucy Swanton was born on 28 November 1901 at Kew, Melbourne, youngest of four children of Victorian-born parents William Howell Swanton, shipping manager, and his wife Lucy Freeman, née Kitchen. Educated at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne, she had a strict upbringing within her Plymouth Brethren family. Seeking liberation from the stuffiness of Melbourne, and close to her brother, Cedric Howell Swanton, she followed him to Sydney and then to London, where in the mid-1930s she completed a two-year art history course at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Returning to Melbourne, she managed the Riddell Gallery from 1937. The next year she presented the first one-man show by (Sir) Russell Drysdale and an exhibition by Danila Vassilieff.

In 1938 Smith and Swanton formed a partnership and acquired the Macquarie Galleries. Already Sydney’s foremost commercial gallery for contemporary art, it remained so under their direction, showing all the leading Sydney artists of the time. Swanton persuaded Rupert Bunny, who was in Melbourne, to exhibit his South of France landscapes in 1939. They showed many women artists, among them Grace Cossington Smith, Grace Crowley, Margaret Preston, Jean Bellette, Margaret Olley and Elaine Haxton.

Macquarie Galleries staged many first exhibitions—for example Justin O’Brien in 1944—and provided artists with the support that they needed to pursue their work, as they did for Ian Fairweather from 1949. Respected for their integrity, Smith and Swanton were renowned for the quality and adventurousness of their exhibitions. They presented Direction 1 (1956), began the Exhibition of Fives (every picture for five guineas) and initiated touring exhibitions to country centres. Smith said that they succeeded in maintaining high standards of artistic and business practice because she did not care about money and Swanton did not need any. Their partnership continued until 1956, after which Smith co-directed Macquarie Galleries with Mary Killen (later Turner) (1956-76), Penelope Meagher (1966-72) and Eileen Chanin (1976-79).

Smith and Swanton at first appeared an unlikely pair: their aesthetic preferences differed, Smith favouring figuration and Swanton abstraction; Smith was oriented toward Europe and Britain, Swanton toward Asia; Smith painted, Swanton read widely; Smith was tall, Swanton petite. Both were instinctively elegant; Smith favoured pearls, Swanton minimalism. They were feistily independent and energetic, with entertaining discourse and ready laughter. Being highly principled, both could appear forbidding yet possessed a capacity for generous friendship. An imperious manner and firm jaw matched Smith’s resolve and unwavering loyalty for artists whose work she supported. Smile lines around her ice-blue eyes and an infectious, high giggle at much that amused her revealed her vivacity and warm-heartedness. Swanton’s steady, blue-eyed gaze pierced through pretension, her expressive hand-gestures amplified the sharpness of her outlook.

Through the 1960s Smith continued to promote contemporary Australian art, for example at the Auckland Festival (1960). On 27 December 1962 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney, she married Clive Edwin Bennett, a retired commodore purser of the P & O fleet whom she had known for thirty years. They enjoyed travel together. She was awarded the BEM in 1979. That year she retired to their home at Whale Beach, but found retirement unsatisfying. Disaffected with younger artists and the trend to abstraction, she aligned herself with the Painters Gallery, Darlinghurst, where she held her last solo exhibition in 1982.

Swanton stayed on in Sydney, always living by the sea. After her retirement from the gallery she was an avid and venturesome traveller on four continents. A leading activist in a campaign to preserve the Elizabeth Bay foreshores, she volunteered with Indigenous groups at La Perouse and Redfern.

Both women were discerning collectors. A painter herself of ‘little green trees’, Smith always respected the achievements of fellow painters. She collected works by Bunny, Fairweather, O’Brien, Rees, Jeffrey Smart, Donald Friend and Roland Wakelin; these were mostly paid off by weekly instalments. Swanton, who owned paintings by Bunny, Cossington Smith, Fairweather and John Passmore, expanded her private collection to encompass new artists of the 1960s and 1970s, including Colin Lanceley, Richard Larter, Michael Taylor, Tony Tuckson and Dick Watkins. In 1953 she gave some of her collection to the University of Sydney; she later gave works to the regional galleries of Newcastle, Wollongong and Manly as well as to State galleries. The greater part of her collection, however, went to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Swanton never married and had no religious belief. She died on 1 July 1981 at Darlinghurst and was cremated. Predeceased by her husband, Smith died on 21 September 1990 at Bayview and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Treania Smith Collection, 18 June-6 July 1985 (1985)
  • Art & Australia, vol 28, no 3, 1991, p 343
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1981, p 8, 25 Sept 1990, p 4
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 27 Sept 1982, p 7
  • National Times, 24-30 May 1985, p 28
  • H. de Berg, interview with T. Smith (typescript, 1965, National Library of Australia)
  • Macquarie Galleries archive (Art Gallery of NSW)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Eileen Chanin, 'Smith, Treania Helen Lindsay (1901–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-treania-helen-lindsay-15737/text26925, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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