Still Life with Pears
- Bessie Davidson
- Still Life with Pears
- oil on canvas board
- 52 x 45 cm
signed lower left: Bessie Davidson
Copyright the Estate of the Artist, courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia.
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne
Bessie Davidson & Sally Smart - Two artists and the Parisian avant-garde, Bendigo Art Gallery, 20 March - 26 July 2020
Innovative Australian Women, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 25 March - 31 July 2020
Lauraine Diggins Fine Art Collectors' Exhibition 2017, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 3 June - 29 July 2017
Australian Women Artists: Between the Wars, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 3 March - 25 April 2015
Bessie Davidson's Still Life with Pears is a captivating painting about painting. Visually rich in its handling of colour, texture, volume, composition and paint itself, its appeal to the senses extends to the scent of pears. The sensory experience is widened to embrace taste, touch and smell. Still with Pears finds curve repeating curve, as all moves towards a painterly abstraction. There is a fascinating emphasis on the flatness of the picture plane in its exploration of creativity within painting. ... While art grows in good art, Davidson's paintings are immensely independent in their vision. Thoroughly French in feeling, her light filled paintings became progressively freer and more semi-abstract in the later years of the twenties and onwards. Clearly, Davidson excelled in the enjoyment of painting still life, where the heroics and grand narratives translated themselves into self-assurance and spontaneity, expressed through vivacity of palette knife, brushwork and faceted colours. The genre of still life offers one of the purest forms of art and aesthetic delight, emphasis being on its very essentials, with narrative elements either abandoned or dismissed to some minor aspect or association. Its history, through masters and mistresses of the genre, is impressive. It reaches from classical frescoes and mosaics of ancient Rome to Albrecht Durer, Hans Memling, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Morandi, Matisse, and Picasso - the list is nigh endless. In Australia, the list of gifted women is remarkable, including Ellis Rowan, Margaret Preston, Clarice Beckett, Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Olley, Criss Canning. They all share the seemingly magical transformation of the commonplace into wonders of aesthetic delight, while exploring the ways and nature of painting. As in Cezanne's Onions and Bottle 1896-98 in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris or Still Life with Apples 1895-98 in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, prosaic as their titles may be, they are brilliant works of art.
Bessie Davidson belongs to that extraordinary group of Australian artists who led the way out of the backwaters of traditionalism into the adventurous colours and forms of modern art. In Adelaide she studied under Margaret Preston (then Rose McPherson). They travelled together in Europe and held a joint exhibition back in Adelaide in 1907. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased Davidson's portrait of Gladys Reynell, another outstanding South Australian artist who worked as a ceramicist. Having previously studied in Paris at the Academic de la Grande Chaumiere and exhibited in the Salon de la Societe des Artists Francais and the Societe National des Beaux-Arts in 1910, Davidson settled there. She had fallen irretrievably in love with Paris and more precisely with Montparnasse, rapidly becoming the artistic hub. From 1912 onwards, her apartment in the Rue Boissonade became her lifelong home and studio. During World War I she worked as a nurse, bravely volunteering to care for typhoid patients. At war's end she was awarded La Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise. Like Rupert Bunny, Davidson exhibited widely in Paris, achieving much success.
The first Australian woman to become a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, she was a founder member of the Salon des Tuileries and was elected Vice-President of La Societe Nationale de Femmes Artists Modernes 1930. In 1931, Davidson was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur for her art and her humanity, again the first Australian woman to be so honoured. She was also a founding member of the Societe Nationale des Independents. In 1938 she exhibited in L'Exposition du Groupe Feminine at the Petit Palais. The year following her work was included in the Exhibition of French Art that toured Pittsburg, St Louis, New York and Edinburgh. Davidson also exhibited with the South Australian Society of Artists, the Royal Society of Artists, Edinburgh and the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts. Again like Bunny, Davidson never gave up her Australian citizenship. In 1994, her paintings featured in the exhibition South Australian Women Artists 1890s - 1940s at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, her birthplace. Five years later, the Australian Embassy, Paris honoured her with the solo presentation Bessie Davidson: une Australienne en France 1880 1965.
The provenance of Still Life with Pears demands notice, ... once in the collection of Joseph Brown, once the doyen of Australian art dealers and generous benefactor of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and many other galleries too.
This is an edited extract from an essay by David Thomas as appeared in Lauraine Diggins Fine Art Collectors' Exhibition 2017, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 2017, pp.14-16