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 Bessie Davidson  (1879 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: Australia/France      Known for: Still life, portrait, landscape painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Interior with Poppies (Interieur), c1935
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Bessie Ellen Davidson (1879-1965)

A still life, portrait and landscape painter, she was born on May 22, 1879  in North Adelaide, second of five children of David Davidson, mining secretary, and his wife Ellen, née Johnson, both from Scotland.  Bessie was educated in Adelaide, studied art in 1899 under Rose McPherson and exhibited with the South Australian Society of Arts in 1901-03.  After her mother's death, in July 1904, Bessie left for Europe with Rose and studied briefly at the Künstlerinnen Verein, Munich, Germany.  They moved to Paris in November.  At the Académie de la Grande Chaumière her teacher was René-Xavier Prinet.  She was also taught by Raphael Collin, Gustave Courtois and Richard Miller.  She exhibited her 'Petite Marie' at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français; in 1906 two of her paintings were shown at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.  She became a founding member of and exhibited with the Salon des Tuileries.

Upon returning to Adelaide, she leased a studio with McPherson and they held a combined show in March 1907.  Davidson exhibited regularly with the S.A.S.A.  In 1908 the National Gallery of South Australia bought her portrait of her friend Gladys Reynell.  Her self-portrait (1909) shows her swept-up, chestnut hair, expressive, brown eyes and reveals her spirit and dignity.

Davidson returned to Paris in 1910, exhibited annually, and traveled through Europe and Russia.  Back in Adelaide  in 1914, she completed 'Mother and Child' which depicts her sister and infant niece seated on their verandah.  When World War I began she sailed immediately for Paris.  There she joined the French Red Cross Societies and worked as a nurse.

After the war Davidson showed her paintings frequently in Paris, winning praise from the critics.  She was an associate (1920), member and secretary (1922) of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.  In 1930 she became vice-president of La Société Femmes Artistes Modernes; she was also a founding member of the Société Nationale Indépendentes.  In 1931 she was appointed to the Légion d'honneur.  She contributed to L'Exposition du Groupe Feminin at the Petit Palais de la Ville de Paris in 1938.  Davidson was later represented in the annual International Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, and exhibited at St Louis and New York, United States of America, in Edinburgh, and with the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, in London and at Venice, Italy.

Davidson remained in France during World War II.  Friends gave her shelter at Grenoble where she continued to paint.  In 1945 she returned to her studio-apartment in the Latin Quarter, Paris, which was her base for the rest of her life.  Often she stayed on her farm at Buchy, near Rouen; every year she visited relations in Scotland; and she returned to Adelaide once, in l950.

Davidson died on February 22, 1965 at Montparnasse and was buried in a cemetery at St Saëns, Normandy.

In 1967 an exhibition of her work was held at the Osborne Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Over her life time, her work evolved from an impressionist to a more modernist style and is held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, among others.

Sources include:
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, 1993

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