School of Art
The Davies SistersGwendoline Margaret Davies (1882–1951) and her sister Margaret Sydney Davies (1884–1963) were the grand-daughters of David Davies ‘Top Sawyer’, the Victorian entrepreneur and industrialist who amassed a great fortune from mining, shipping and the railways in south Wales. At the turn of the century the sisters had inherited a large part of his wealth and they were each reputed to be millionaires in their own right. Their interests were varied and they used their wealth in generous support of art, music, literature, education, religion, politics, welfare and health affairs in Wales.
They bought Gregynog Hall, near Newtown, Montgomeryshire in 1920, with the original intention of turning it into a rural centre for Arts and Crafts in mid Wales — its most successful venture was the Gregynog Press. By funding the establishment of both a Department of Art and an Arts and Crafts Collection at The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, the sisters envisaged that the two ventures would lead to an arts and crafts revival for Wales.
Gregynog became their home in 1924 after their brother remarried and they felt compelled to leave the family home at Llandinam. The sisters are more widely known for their collection of French 19th century Realist, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting which they bequeathed to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff in 1952 and 1963. Their house and its contents were given in trust to The University of Wales in 1963 for use as a conference centre by its constituent colleges.
In the acquisition of paintings by Daumier, Millet, Corot, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Cezanne and sculptures by Rodin and Degas and others (mostly all purchased between 1912 and 1920) the Davies sisters have been compared to the great Victorian collector Sir Hugh Lane — Gwen Davies’ collection was the most important collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pictures acquired by any single collector before 1920.
Their advisor Hugh Blaker (1873–1936) — a painter, collector, dealer and museum curator — was the younger brother of their governess Jane Blaker. He played an important role in the formation of the collection and is often referred to as its ‘architect’. But the French collection was only one aspect of their interests — the French art collection at Gregynog stood alongside Old Masters, prints by Dürer, Rembrandt and Whistler, Chinese and Islamic ceramics, contemporary hand-made furniture commissioned by the sisters, Welsh vernacular furniture as well as contemporary ceramics and crafts. Seen as a whole their collections are a tribute to the wide-ranging tastes.