'Feminine' Anatomies of Taste and Cultures of Collecting in Early Twentieth Century Britain: Gwendoline and Margaret Davies as Women Art Patrons

By Stephenson, Andrew | Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art, Annual 2003 | Go to article overview

'Feminine' Anatomies of Taste and Cultures of Collecting in Early Twentieth Century Britain: Gwendoline and Margaret Davies as Women Art Patrons


Stephenson, Andrew, Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art


While the literature on art patronage in the first half of the Twentieth century in Britain has focused primarily on wealthy male collectors and their public acts of benevolence, the activities of two Welsh sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret Davies have been largely overlooked and until recently, relatively undervalued. (1) Not invited onto the male-dominated trustee committees of the nation's public galleries nor active as executive members of the major art patronage groups, these Welsh co-collectors remained highly independent in their patronage operations and frequently eschewed publicity by lending their work anonymously as 'friends of the arts', thereby shielding their privacy and their female identities. (2) Bearing in mind that art collecting in Western culture is often and unquestionably theorized as a metropolitan 'masculine' activity demonstrating a singular celebrated and innovative male taste formation and superior aesthetic judgment at work, the Davies sisters pose a fascinating challenge to such cultural, sexual, and behavioral stereotyping. (3) While inheriting enormous wealth from their grandfather, David Davies (a self-made multi-millionaire rich from coal, railways, and shipping investments), they also inherited his Calvinist Methodism, his teetotalism and his liberal politics demonstrated through a fervent commitment to cultural philanthropy and to social welfare. (4) Furthermore, as active supporters of Welsh nationalism and the Welsh language (although themselves English-speaking Welshwomen), their taste-formation disturbs any convenient bourgeois classification. (5) It refuses any correlation between marginality and provincialism and challenges any simple categorizations of nationalism and cosmopolitanism thereby yielding revealing insights into the complex significations of art patronage.

As single women with distinctive educational backgrounds and different artistic expertise, the Davies sister's two collections were frequently collapsed together and discussed by art writers as if it evidenced the singular taste of one 'feminine' patron of the arts. If, as often is the case, art collections are approached as offering up the signs and signifiers of a self-conscious individualism in operation--the display of a distinctive identity projected onto the objects of collection--then the Davies collection as a product of dual selection deceives and refuses any expectation of homogeneity. (6) Although both women were educated privately, their cultural formations were different. Margaret studied art at the Slade School of Art in London and then attended drawing classes in Paris where she was exposed to modern French art. Gwen specialized in music and played the violin, studying music in Leipzig and becoming a convinced Germanist in musical taste promoting Bach and Beethoven in festivals alongside an appreciation of Wesley. (7) While the Davies sisters co-owned a London flat at 3 Buckingham Gate near St. James' Park, both women traveled regularly and independently, notably to Paris and to the South of France. Formed within the dynamic cultural frameworks and changing parameters of Edwardian femininity, the sisters seem in many respects to embody and epitomize an expansive cosmopolitanism associated with a growing sense of female confidence in an age of urban mobility amongst British upper middle class women. (8)

Insofar as they shared a collective endeavor as art patrons, the Davies sisters were committed to an intellectual project formed by and in response to the residues of the moral and ethical ideals of William Morris' earlier Arts and Crafts movement. Both sisters subscribed to a belief in the seriousness of art (incorporating painting and music) and the sincerity of its aesthetic affects: a view that equated artistic integrity and aesthetic vitality with social and moral regeneration. In part, this reaction was inherited from their father's socially responsible political convictions, yet it was an outlook modernized and reformulated according to their own generational concerns and experiences as women in which aesthetics and ethics were imbued with religious zeal.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'Feminine' Anatomies of Taste and Cultures of Collecting in Early Twentieth Century Britain: Gwendoline and Margaret Davies as Women Art Patrons
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.