Completed British 20th C, except portraits 20 Can you tell us more about the artist Thomas Swimmer (b.1932)?

Topic: Artist

Thomas Swimmer is an interesting yet little known artist. There are six examples held on Art UK, all from the 1950s or early 1960s. I have owned five works myself, the latest in date being one from 1964. He studied with distinction at the Royal Academy Schools from 1950–1956 and exhibited at the RA from 1953–1956. It appears that he also exhibited with The Redfern Gallery and The Piccadilly Gallery. In the 1960s he apparently undertook some work for the BBC. Thereafter he seems to have disappeared from view. According to one auction results website he died in 1983 but that fact seems not to have been verified. Nearly ten years ago I spoke with one of his friends from the 1950s who told me that Swimmer lodged at this man's parents’ house in Kensington in the 1950s and the artist had a studio 'on the edge of Dartmoor, now overgrown and derelict'. This friend also told me that Thomas Swimmer (and his wife?) had died in a motoring accident many years ago but he did not specify a date or location although in England. Apparently Swimmer enjoyed fast cars and motor bikes.

As little is recorded on the artist I think it would be helpful if Art Detective could help in fleshing out the existing biography of the artist which may assist the collections who hold his work. The research may be a little complicated as it is understood that he was born to British parents in Dieppe and that Swimmer may not have been his birth surname. Again according to the auction website mentioned above, they suggested that alternate surnames were Taylor and/or Wheeler. This is something of a conundrum and it may be time for Art Detective to solve it!

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The vital dates for Thomas Swimmer, born Thomas Wheeler Taylor, have been established as 1932–1983 and Pieter van der Merwe’s new artist biography will now be reviewed with the Editorial team and then incorporated on to the Art UK site.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


This feels strange but I am now responding to the discussion I raised as new information has come to light, which resolves the issues raised. It is an old friend of the artist who got me on the right track. The artist was born THOMAS WHEELER TAYLOR in Dieppe in 1932. His mother was from central Europe, possibly Hungary, and her maiden name was SCHWIMMER. Professionally Tom Taylor adopted the name SWIMMER to distinguish himself from others of a similar name. He married his wife MURIEL in 1955 (her dates were 1932-1989). His father came from Tavistock and it is there that the artist had his studio, at Burnt Lane, Brentor, Near Tavistock, Devon. THOMAS WHEELER TAYLOR died on 13th October 1983 in Suffolk. He had been living then in Great Livermere, a village north of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Kieran Owens,

In January 1954 he was featured in Britannia & Eve publication as a painter of plates "with designs of Spanish peasant life or any personal theme, each costs 10s from 103 Lansdowne Road, W.11."

He also painted the rather wonderful melange of Devonshire imagery that appear in the attached advertisement from the Illustrated London News of Saturday 11th April 1959.

Landscapes and still lives were exhibited in his fourth solo show at the Trafford Gallery, 119 Mount Street, in May 1966.

Nico Dekker,

I am new to this web forum, but I would like to add to the knowledge of the work of this artist. I acquired two paintings when I bought a property in London Victoria in Westminster about 16 years ago in 2005. The previous owner left other decent art work as well as part of the sale, but I have no knowledge of where he had obtained it.
I have attached photos of the two paintings in gouache and watercolour. The signed painting dated 1954 is entitled “Ibezan Street Scene” on the Piccadilly Gallery label on the back. The actual painting measures 36x28cm. The other is not signed, but the label says “Grimes’ Kitchen” and is in similar style and measures 36x24cm. The frames appear artist-made.
Nico Dekker

Hello Nico, and thank you for taking the trouble to write in. I cannot comment on work held outside of collections listed on Art UK but you will know that Thomas Swimmer did exhibit at the Piccadilly Gallery. I know the 'Grimes' to whom you refer. To quote him 'He (Swimmer) was a great friend, I met him at Heatherleys School of Art, me as a visitor. He took a room in my parents house..'. Mr Grimes was talking about a time in the mid 1950s. I hope this helps.

Marcie Doran,

Family trees and the 1939 England and Wales Register on Ancestry show that Thomas Wheeler Taylor (b. 8 May 1932 in Dieppe, France, d. 13 Oct. 1983 in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk) was the son of Lindsay Wheeler Taylor (b. 28 June 1898 in Eastbourne, Sussex, d. 28 Jan. 1965 at Thorn Cottage, Burn Lane, Brentor, Tavistock, Devon) and Erszibet [Elizabeth] Shwimmer (b. 23 Feb. 1902 in Hungary, d. unknown). His wife was Muriel Ann Taylor (née Griffin) (b. 31 July 1932 in Epsom, Surrey, d. 5 June 1989 in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk). An Ancestry tree shows they had four children.

Thomas and his parents are shown living in Paddington on the attached 1939 England and Wales Register.

As Grant has noted, the questions he posed at the beginning of this discussion have essentially been answered – almost immediately by Grant himself! Useful additional information came swiftly from Kieran, Nico, Marcie and Jacinto, for which many thanks.

It would be nice to think that this forgotten artist will now be remembered and, in a measured way, celebrated. For me, seeing the Warwick University canvas was like turning a page in one of those little green-backed Studio magazines of the early 1950s, at a time when Bernard Buffet was all the rage. While the grainy graphism of Swimmer’s Iberian township lacks Buffet’s conspicuous angst, it is unpretentious and, in its way, stylish. Grant and his respondents have done their bit, and my recommendation to Art Detective would be that this discussion should now be closed.

No further information has appeared confirming or refuting Grant's original received information that Swimmer died as result of a motoring accident: can that be nailed down? There might be a 1983 press report. His wife clearly didn't.

Jacinto Regalado,

Pieter, the first sentence of the last paragraph should end in "death." There is a superfluous "aged" after it.

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, Pieter, give the treatment Jansen received here, no one can accuse us of being elitist, though some might accuse us of being the equivalent of artsy trainspotters.