Douglas Swan was born in Connecticut, USA in 1930 of Scottish parents and moved to Carnoustie on the east coast of Scotland with his family in 1936 at the age of six. After completing his National Service he studied at the Dundee College of Art from 1943-1953.
Swan began exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy, and was awarded the RSA Scholarship in London in 1954; It was here that he met and formed a lasting friendship with the artist William Scott (1913-1989). They painted together in Somerset and then in Cornwall. In 1958, alongside other St Ives artists Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Anthony Benjamin and Trevor Bell, he was awarded a British Council Scholarship for study in Italy. While on scholarship in Milan, Swan enjoyed the vibrant contemporary art scene of the time provided by Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Roberto Crippa.
During the late 1960s Swan moved to Switzerland with his wife Barbara (nee Kückels) and became an important and established 20th Century Abstract painter. In the mid 1970s, they moved to Bonn, living at first in Mozart, and then in Göbenstrasse. Throughout his life, Swan would often return to his parental home of Carnoustie where he continued to paint and draw inspiration.
In 1986 he was awarded the Kunststipendium des Stadt, a major award given annually by the City of Bonn.
During his career, Swan showed at Gimpel Fils & Waddingtons in the late 1950s, the RSA (Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh), Young Contemporaries, London Group, AIA (Artists International Association), and had a series of one-man shows in Italy, Germany and Switzerland. His time spent in Carnoustie, Arbroath, resulted in a series of solo exhibitions in the UK most significantly with the Stone Gallery in 1964. His works are held in public and private galleries/collections in the UK, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands.