School of Art
The Davies Sisters' Print CollectionIn 1952 Margaret Davies donated five engravings by Dürer, three etchings by Rembrandt and two by Anders Zorn to the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. In addition she presented Whistler's Thames Set in memory of her step-mother Mrs Edward Davies, fifty-seven etchings by Augustus John and five by Jean Louis Forain in memory of her sister Gwendoline. The rest of their print collection, framed on the walls or for the most part mounted in portfolios, passed to the University of Wales along with Gregynog and its contents in 1963. These prints joined The University of Wales, Aberystwyth Collection of Graphic Art on long term loan in 1989. This is a thriving print collection which has grown considerably since it was founded in 1920 with a generous endowment from the Davies sisters to establish a teaching collection for the Department of Art.
Whilst the Davies collection of French art was purchased in a systematic way to represent art in 19th-century France, on the sound advice of Hugh Blaker and their other advisors, the prints, like their ‘Old Masters’ and 18th–19th paintings of the British school appear to have been acquired less methodically. There are the prints by artists with whom they were acquainted: Hugh Blaker, his friend John Whitcombe, curator of the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and a particularly fine group of etchings by the Welsh artist Fred Richards whose work had been introduced to the sisters by Thomas Jones, their closest friend and confident.
The sisters subscribed to the Print Collectors' Club, which was established in 1921, and in return received a limited edition presentation print annually: Anderson, Bentley, Brockhurst, Osborne, Ray-Jones and Walcot were acquired in this way. The closest they came to ‘serious’ print collecting, at a time when it was not only fashionable but highly profitable to do so, is in the important group of prints they acquired by eminent European masters: five engravings by Dürer, three etchings by Rembrandt (a self portrait, a landscape and a biblical scene which illustrates the breadth of his activities as a printmaker), eight etchings by the Swedish artist Anders Zorn and twenty-five etchings and lithographs by James McNeill Whistler – widely acknowledged to be the most important and influential etcher in the history of printmaking since Rembrandt. There are eighty-four etchings in the collection by Augustus John who was already a well established painter when Gwendoline Davies, persuaded by Blaker, purchased this set, along with ‘numerous drawings’, from an exhibition of John’s prints at the Chenil Gallery, London in 1919. Hugh Blaker had been long-time admirer of John’s work, indeed he had twenty-eight examples in his own collection.
It became clear very early on that the sisters intended leaving their collection of French art to the Nation and in many ways this decision ‘to buy for posterity’ was reflected in their choice of works and manner in which they were acquired. For example, some of the works they purchased were delivered to Cardiff and never saw Gregynog, and during her last years Margaret Davies sold some of the works by artists already well represented in the Museum (from her sister’s bequest) in order to extend the scope of the collection overall to include more pieces of 20th-century French painting. The print collection, though less systematically acquired, is nonetheless as personal and idiosyncratic a reflection of their taste as the other fine and decorative arts at Gregynog. It contains work which had personal associations for the sisters as well as that which represented for them some of the finest achievements in printmaking in Britain and on the Continent over the past five hundred years.
Davies Sisters | Hugh Blaker