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Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965)

Daniel Goddard, Head of the Pictures Department, looks at the life of Australian artist Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965) who was influenced by Impressionism and joined the French Red Cross during World War I.

Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965): Fleurs, 1939 (FS35/458). Estimate £3,000-£5,000.

Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965): Fleurs, 1942 (FS35/458). Estimate £3,000-£5,000.

In our Picture Auction within the July 2017 Fine Sale, we have two oil paintings by Bessie Ellen Davidson. The first is a view of the coast at Marseilles (FS35/459) painted in 1939 and the second is a 1942 Still Life of Pink Roses in a Jug (FS35/458).

Davidson produced most of her work while on various periods in Paris, the southern French coast and the Basque region of Guethary. Alongside strong landscapes, her other subjects include closely observed and characterful portraits and floral still lifes that have a strong Scottish Colourist influence. The pictures are on view from Friday, 7th July 2017 and will be sold on Tuesday, 11th July 2017.

Bessie Ellen Davidson was born in 1879 in Adelaide, Australia, to a family of Scottish and English origin. She was the second child of David Davidson, who was in the mining industry, and Ellen Johnson Davidson. Her great-grandfather William Gowan was a sculptor and her grandmother Frances Gowan was a painter. She was educated at the Advanced School for Girls, studied art with the painter Rose McPherson (better known as Margaret Preston) and began exhibiting with the South Australian Society of Arts in 1901.

After her mother's death in 1904, she went to Europe to study art with Preston. They spent their first few months in Munich, where Davidson studied briefly at the Künstlerinner Verein, before moving to Paris. There she studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where she met and began a lifelong friendship with Philippe Besnard's future wife, Germaine Desgranges.

Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965): Marseilles, 1939 (FS35/459). Estimate £1,000-£1,500.

Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965): Marseilles, 1939 (FS35/459). Estimate £1,000-£1,500.

A year after her arrival in France, she was exhibiting at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français and the year after that at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In 1922, she would become the first Australian woman elected a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She was also a founding member of the Salon des Tuileries at which she would exhibit almost every year between 1923 and 1951.

Returning to Australia in 1907, Davidson rented a studio with Preston and continued painting and exhibiting. In 1910, she returned to Paris and set-up a workshop in Monparnasse in the same street as Raymond Legueult and the Dutch painter Conrad Kickert. She made many other friends in Parisian art circles, including the painter Anders Osterlind.

Davidson was back in Australia in 1914 when World War I began. She returned to France immediately, where she joined the French Red Cross and served in various military hospitals. During the war, she met the woman who would become her companion for the next two decades, Marguerite Leroy (d 1938), whose nickname was Dauphine.

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