The Artists

David Davies


David Davies
La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection
State Library of Victoria

David Davies was born on 21 May 1864 at Ballarat West, Victoria. He was one of six children of Thomas Davies, miner of Ballarat West, and his wife, Mary Davies, nee Harris. Both of his parents were from South Wales.

In his early years he attended the Redan and Sebastopol State Schools. He later enrolled in art classes at the Ballarat School of Mines and Industries, where his drawing teacher was J.F.Martell and painting teacher, Thomas Price.

His early landscapes in oils included views of Lake Wendouree, and panoramic works depicting the Grampians, of which 'A View Near Stawell', 1886 is a fine example, and was part of the James Oddie Collection.

James Oddie was a patron of the Arts, and was founder of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. He took a keen interest in the works of David Davies, and included seven, five oils and two watercolours, in a major exhibition held in the City Hall, Ballarat in June 1884.

Davies is recorded as having worked as a jeweller in Bridge Street, Ballarat, for a short time, before moving to Melbourne where he became a student at the National Gallery of Victoria, and became a member of the Buonarotti Society.

He enrolled in the National Gallery of Victoria under Frederick McCubbin in the first half of 1886, and one of his student works from this period, was his 'Study of Male Nude', c. 1887.

Davies possessed strong drawing skills, and his ability, enhanced through his previous studies at the Ballarat School of Mines and Industries was noticed by McCubbin, who permitted him to enrol in the School of Painting, National Gallery of Victoria, in the following year. Here he studied under George Frederick Folingsby in 1887, 1888, for the socond half of 1889, and in 1890.

His student works, which included portraits, was highly regarded, and he won First Prize for Landscape in the Fifth Annual Exhibition of Paintings by the Students of the National Gallery under the direction of G.F.Folingsby, November 1888, with his work 'A Hot Day', 1888.

In December 1888, he took a break from his studies at the National Gallery School for six months, and took a studio in Ballarat where he worked on a number of commissions as well as giving tuition to pupils. He returned to Melbourne and his studies at the National Gallery in the second half of 1889.

Further recognition of his student works came in that year, for his work 'From a Distant Land', 1889, and also in the following year, for his work 'Under the Burden and Heat of the Day', 1890.

Davies had hoped that 'Under the Burden and Heat of the Day' would win the National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship for 1890, and provide him with the finances to study abroad. This scholarship was awarded triennially, and was first presented in 1887 for a work by John Longstaff. In 1890, the scholarship was won by Aby Altson for his work 'Flood Sufferings', and provided him with 150 pounds per year for the next three years.

Davies would have been disappointed at not having won the Travelling Scholarship, however his disappointment would have been short lived. 'Under the Burden and Heat of the Day' was highly praised and won another special award, and caught the attention of James Oddie. Oddie offered Davies one hundred guineas for the work, and in 1891 presented the work to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

The sale of 'Under the Burden and Heat of the Day', enabled Davies to pursue his artistic studies abroad, and he left Melbourne late in 1890, bound for Europe.

He travelled to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens. His address for his studio flat at this time, was 2 Rue d'Odessa. In Paris, he was particularly impressed by the works of J.-C.Cazin and Achille Cesborn.

On 18 December 1891, he married at the British Consulate in Paris, fellow student, Janet Sophia Davies. The witnesses to the marriage were Rupert Bunny and Aby Altson. Altson was in Paris on his Travelling Scholarship, and was enrolled with Davies at the Academie Julian. Janet Davies had been a student at the National Gallery of Victoria, and had been enrolled in the Drawing School under Frederick McCubbin in the second half of 1887, in 1888, 1889, and the first half of 1890. In Paris she attended drawing classes at Colarossi's atelier.

Arthur Streeton had been a fellow student of Janet and David Davies at the National Gallery School in 1887 and 1888, and Charles Conder was a fellow student in 1889.

Janet Davies' brother, Charles Davies, owned the old farmhouse on the Eaglemont estate that he provided rent free to Arthur Streeton from around Christmas time in 1888 to mid 1890. It is possible that the idea of Streeton living at the old Eaglemont farmhouse was suggested to Charles Davies via Arthur Streeton's and Janet Davies' close friend and fellow National Gallery student, Lucy Walker. Lucy was a student at the National Gallery of Victoria Schools between 1880 and 1888, and later married Charles Davies.

In 1892, soon after their marriage in Paris, David Davies and his wife, Janet travelled to St.Ives, Cornwall, England, where they settled for a year. St.Ives was already known for its plein air artists' colony and its own particular style of landscape art, and what was known as the Newlyn School was already well founded. The art produced in this area was predominantly plein air, and the artists were concerned with capturing the mood and effects of the light on the landscape. This style suited and greatly appealed to David Davies.

It is recorded that he briefly visited Venice, probably in 1892, before his return with his wife to Melbourne in mid 1893.

Fanny Withers, wife of Walter Withers, later wrote of their return:
'In the Winter of 1893, Mr and Mrs David Davies settled near Charterisville in 'Rangeworthy', (York Avenue), Ivanhoe. The painter and his wife had recently returned from Europe, and naturally leaned towards the old familiar painting ground, which they had frequented in the golden days of Eaglemont.
Neighbourliness sprang up between the households of the two painters, and after Withers left Charterisville, in the following year 1894, and took a cottage in Cape Street, Heidelberg, the Davies' removed to Templestowe, a distance of about two miles from Withers' new studio.'

For the next three years, Templestowe became David Davies painting ground. Here he produced many romantic landscapes that captured the softness of the evening twilight. His interest in plein air painting, and in capturing the light and mood of the 'gloaming', was shared by many of his fellow Heidelberg School artists, including Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Walter Withers, Jane Price and Emanuel Phillips Fox.

This time in Templestowe was one of great artistic output for Davies. He regularly exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society between August 1893 and May 1896, and produced many of his major, large landscapes during this time.

Works exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society, included 'Moonrise', 1894, exhibited in the Victorian Artists' Society Exhibition, October 1894, and purchased the following year by the National Gallery of Victoria, and 'The Season of Storm, Stress and Toil', 1895, which was exhibited in the Victorian Artists' Society Exhibition, September 1895.

Art critic, James Smith noted that with the work 'The Season of Storm, Stress and Toil':
"There is nothing distinctly Australian about it…though it was evidently painted near Templestowe where the same artist painted 'Moonrise' last year. It might almost be a landscape in Yorkshire or Northumberland, or near that village where Gray wrote the 'Elegy', for the ploughman and his tired horses, seen in the cold light of the coming storm and true to nature in more places than one."
Some have questioned the originality of composition in the work 'The Season of Storm, Stress and Toil', and it has been noted that the composition is very similar to that of 'Evening' painted at Giverny by the American artist, Louis P.Dessar that was shown in the Old Salon in 1892.

It is important to note, that with the paintings of Templestowe, this anonymity of place was very much the case with many of the works, with Davies providing us with few, if any, distinguishing features in the landscape.

The time in Templestowe, although rich in artistic creativity, was also a time of sadness for the Davies family. Soon after moving there, their first child, a daughter was born, but she only lived a few months.

Early in 1896, shortly after the birth of their second child, also a daughter, the family moved to Cheltenham, Victoria. Davies however, continued visiting and working in Templestowe, and in 1897 produced the tranquil rural twilight scene 'Evening Templestowe', 1897.

During 1897, David Davies and his family left Australia and travelled to England, where they settled once again in St.Ives, Cornwall. Here he worked on a number of seascapes, which included the work 'Hayle Bar, Cornwall' and 'St. Ives Bay, Cornwall', 1904.

The following year, the Davies family moved to nearby Lelant Down on the River Hayle, and in April 1898, four of Davies works were included in the Exhibition of Australian Art held at the Grafton Galleries in London.

In 1898, Davies also began exhibiting works in The New English Art Club Exhibitions, and in 1899, his work was accepted for hanging in The Royal Academy. He continued exhibiting with The Royal Academy until 1906, and also exhibited with the Ridley Art Club between 1900 and 1906.

In January 1900, shortly after the birth of their third child, a son, the family moved along the coast to Carbis Bay, and then later to Newquay, and Tintagel, and finally to North Wales.

Apart from his painting, Davies also gave art lessons at this time, and one of his pupils in 1901, was James MacDonald.

James MacDonald, in his book The Art & Life of David Davies, pp.19-20, later described Davies method of painting that had evolved at that time, and which Davies employed with great success:
"Briefly, it was based on the theory of the transparency of paint with which varnish is used as a medium, and I think was arrived at in the following way:- Davies was in the habit of slipping a small box of pastels into his pocket and taking a couple of white canvasses under his arm and setting out to sketch whatever he might find that he particularly liked. As he was exacting in his choice, he frequently came back without anything to show, but, if he came back empty-handed, he always came back full of ideas. On one occasion he came back with two sketches, which he fixed by spraying, and then, as an experiment, varnished. He found that the varnishing gave these pastels a resemblance to oil colour, and that in those places where the canvas was untouched the white ground gave a luminosity to the whole that was unattainable by other means. He deduced from this that a canvas primed with a mixture of hard drying, copal varnish, zinc white and china clay, superimposed on a Russian size base, would have a pure white surface of dull porcelain texture; and that painting thinly on this with pale copal varnish would permit the light to shine through from the white ground and give a value to the colour which otherwise it could never possess.

One of the works that Davies produced around this time, was his important oil 'Cornish Village at Sunset', c. 1902.

In 1908, David Davies moved to Dieppe, France, with his wife, Janet and their two children, Gwendoline and Hanbury. Janet found employment, teaching English at a nearby school for girls, while David Davies gave art lessons to a number of students and continued with his landscape painting. His landscapes were mostly oils of local scenes, such as the harbour at Dieppe, and street scenes of Dieppe and the surrounding villages. He also produced a small number of watercolours of the cottages in the villages, as well as the local farmhouses.

With trouble brewing in Europe, in mid 1914, the Davies family made for the safety of London, where David Davies visited the Chelsea Arts Club. Members of this club included Tom Roberts and many other expatriate Australian artists. After the First World War, the family returned once again to Dieppe.

Davies continued exhibiting his works, which were accepted for exhibitions in Paris, London, Melbourne, Sydney and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also became a member of the ROI (Royal Institute of Painters in Oil Colours) and exhibited with this group between 1919 and 1922, and also in 1931.

For the first half of the 1920's, the Davies family lived very modestly on the little money that Janet received from her teaching, and from the occasional art sale, and from the art classes given by David Davies. Although Davies continued with his art, he also gave twice weekly watercolour classes, as well as classes to a small number of private pupils.

Financial success however was eventually achieved through his exhibition in May 1926, entitled The Art of David Davies: One Man Exhibition, which was held at the Fine Art Society Gallery, 100 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. In this exhibition, Davies exhibited 21 oils and 52 watercolours (one fifth of which were flower studies). Reportedly, two thirds of the works sold, for a sum of 1700 pounds.

Occasionally during the 1920's, David Davies left Dieppe, for short periods, to paint with his friend, Richard Heyworth in the Cheltenham area of England. He also visited Heyworth's studio at Sennybridge in Brecon Beacons in Wales. Davies work was included in several important exhibitions held at the Cheltenham City Art Gallery in June 1927 and December 1928.

Eventually the Davies family moved from their house in Rue de Chateau d'Eau to a small farmhouse on the edge of Dieppe. For twenty years Dieppe had been his painting ground, and during this time he recorded many of the buildings of Dieppe in his works, as well as recording the small cottages in the nearby villages. Works from this time in Dieppe include his watercolour 'Cottages Near Dieppe', 1925 and his oil 'Chateau at Dieppe', 1924. Today, the Chateau is used as the Dieppe Art Gallery, and houses several works by David Davies.

In 1932, David Davies and his family left Dieppe, and settled in Looe, Cornwall. Here he lived for the remaining seven years of his life.

David Davies died of cardio-vascular degeneration at Looe, Cornwall on 26 March 1939, and five days later, his wife, Janet, died of pneumonia.

In the 1930's, his works appeared in a number of significant art exhibitions, along with the works of other artists of the Heidelberg School, and since his death, his works have appeared in many major exhibitions of works by the Heidelberg School artists, as well as one man exhibitions.

These exhibitions include:

The Centenary Art Exhibition, Commonwealth Bank, Collins Street, Melbourne, 1934.
Heidelberg and District Art Exhibition, Town Hall, Ivanhoe, November 1934.
150 Years of Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, January 1938.
Loan Exhibition: David Davies, Frederick McCubbin, Walter Withers, National Gallery of Victoria, July-August 1945.
David Davies, Malvern Fine Art Gallery, November 1978 [15 oils and 40 watercolours from the Davies Family Collection].
David Davies: 1864-1939 / Cameron Sparks, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, 1984.
Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, curated by the National Gallery of Victoria, 1986.
The Australian Impressionists: Their Origins & Influences, Lauraine Diggins Fine Arts,
North Caulfield, 1988.
The Great Australian Art Exhibition
, 1988-1989.

Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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