The Davies Sisters' Turners in Cardiff

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The National Museum Wales in Cardiff has its Centenary in 2007/8 and launched its celebrations with an excellent exhibition entitled '"Things of Beauty"--what two sisters did for Wales', which was accompanied by an informative book with the same title edited by Oliver Fairclough. With their gifts and bequests the two Davies sisters--Gwendoline (1882-1951) and Margaret (1884-1963)--'utterly transformed the range and quality of Wales's national art collection'. (1) The book successfully outlines the background and lives of these two remarkable women, and tells the full story of over half a century of their pioneering collecting activities. Well known is the fact that they were among the leading British collectors of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists in the second decade of the 20th century. Less well known is the fact that during this period they were also considerable collectors of paintings, watercolours and drawings by JMW Turner, and that they spent chore on his work than on the work of any other artist. Between 1908 and 1926 their total recorded expenditure on eight paintings and 12 works on paper by or attributed to Turner was 33,695.5s [pounds sterling], while their nine Monet paintings cost 11,530 [pounds sterling] and they spent only 6,230 [pounds sterling] on their three oils and three gouaches by Cezanne, which were bought in 1918 and 1920. (2)

The sisters began to collect in 1906, when Margaret acquired a drawing of An Algerian by HB Brabazon for 10 [pounds sterling]. In the following year Gwendoline came into her inheritance as did Margaret two years later; they received about 330,000 [pounds sterling] each. In 1908 they bought eight works, of which three were by Turner. In June they each paid over 2000 [pounds sterling] for oil paintings by Corot. A few weeks later Gwendoline paid Hugh Blaker, brother of the sisters' governess and their principal art adviser, 210 guineas for the fine 'Southern Coast' watercolour View of Rye (Wilton 471) (Pl 1), which he had bought on her behalf at Christie's in the Stephen Holland sale on June 25. That purchase had clearly aroused the sisters' interest in Turner, which may have been inspired by the example of James Pyke Thompson's collection of Turners in Swansea, for in November they acquired two further lots from the same sale. These had been bought by Knoedler and Colnaghi, though both were actually sold to them by Colnaghi. Margaret paid 5775 [pounds sterling] for The Storm (B&J 480) and Gwendoline 8085 [pounds sterling] for Morning after the Storm (B&J 481). These two atmospheric canvases of about 1840 belong to the group of problematic seascapes owned by John Pound, son of Turner's mistress and house-keeper, Mrs Booth, and sold at auction in 1865. (3) A label on the back of The Storm states 'Said to have been painted by Turner during the great storm which raged on the day on which the Princess Royal was born, Nov. 21 1840', but there is no proof of the truth of this stow. It is interesting to note that the Holland sale also included Turner's The Seat of William Moffatt Esq., at Mortlake. Early (Summer's) Morning of 1826, which sold for 13,250 [pounds sterling], and is now in the Frick Collection in New York (B&J 235).

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In 1909 the sisters purchased six paintings in the 'manner of Constable', two oils by David Cox and major works by Corot, Anton Mauve, Jean-Francois Millet and. George Romney. Early in 1910 they added three more minor 'Pound' Turners to their collection, all bought from the Dowdeswell Galleries. Of these only one, the small A Sailing Boat off Deal (B&J 484) is considered authentic to-day. Margate Jetty, bought for 4000 [pounds sterling], is listed by Butlin and Joll (No. 555) among 'Works no longer attributed to Turner', while Off Deal is now in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (B&J 483). …