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      David Davies: One Of Australia's Own

      8 months ago

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      Untitled -- David Davies

      Thus far no Australian painters have crossed my laptop. After watching an episode from the Dr. Blake Mysteries for the second time, I came across the name David Davies. But first let me speak about this fictional character Dr. Lucien Blake. He is a medical doctor who trained in Scotland sewing his wild oats there by joining the British Army as a medical officer. Stationed in the Far East, he marries a Chinese women and has a daughter with her. They reside in Singapore. Unfortunately war separates them, and he ended up as a POW in Thailand's Ban Pong prison camp under the Japanese. Upon his release, he returns to his hometown of Ballarat after a thirty year absence to take up his late father's medical practice. But not only is Dr. Blake a general practitioner catering to the town's residents but also a coroner for the local police precinct, and that is where the excitement begins. He becomes a crime sleuth overstepping boundaries at times which nearly costs him his job as pathologist to solve murder mysteries while pursuing is own personal saga to locate his lost family. In the end, he finds his daughter, his wife having not survived the war.

      In one of the episodes concerning the alleged suicide of his French mother a painter in her own right, Lucien discovers that a rather poorly executed portrait hid a lost David Davies painting. He meets the woman who had posed for her mother and who conspired to keep the original work from falling into the hands of a family who had purchased it. It seems that his mother Genevieve Ettienne was Mr. Davies's muse. Being that the episodes takes place at the end of a rather long and puritanical decade, in which explicit references to sexual encounters would have been deemed inappropriate or rather shockingly in bad taste, the term muse is this show's preferred term. In modern parlance where one is generally given over to at times excessive use of expletives without any deletions, she would have been described as his mistress or worse his sexual playmate.

      Untitled -- David Davies

      One may ponder why this exotic creature from France would be living in a rural town where one meets no one but Aussies. And one may also wonder why she would seek out one or more gentleman callers when she was tied down to Lucien's father. After all, whatever happened to monogamy and death do us part? We are kept in the dark about all of this. But what we do know is that they had only one child, Lucien, from their union. Perhaps the marriage had gone stale or perhaps something else had transpired. In one episode the remarks of one of the local townspeople gave the impression that it could very well have been a marriage of convenience. With all the talk of the town, it behooved the local doctor to keep well below the radar or shall we say gaydar? But this is only an innuendo leaving at least one possible interpretation.

      It seemed that Lucien's father was not happy with this particular extramarital affair. Was it jealousy or fear over his reputation as the village doctor? In any event, it was in the remote past over thirty years before. Lucien's mother had reportedly taken her life when he was a boy of ten years if I recall correctly. With her demise, the family or what was left of it fell apart. Unwilling to raise the boy himself, the father sent Lucien away to a boarding school. Perhaps this was the coup de gras in his relationship with his father. With the loss of his dear mother – and we have a pretty good idea of how close a mother and son can be – and now being shipped away to boarding school, Lucien was free to make a clean break from the remnant of his family and its town. And he succeeds finding his way in Scotland and then in the Queen's or at that time King's military only to suffer the sad consequences of war languishing in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The mysteries he then resolves upon his homecoming back to Ballarat weave their fabric around his personal mystery which bit-by-bit unravels finding his daughter only to learn that as a young woman has set out on her own in Shanghai not wanting to reunite with her biological father.

      Nocturne, Templestowe (1896) -- David Davies

      David Davies, on the other hand remained a mystery to me. He left Australia in his twenties. That would place his departure around 1929. He was ten when his mother had passed in the year 1919 assuming that he left his native town of Ballarat and hence his country Australia at the age of twenty.

      Could Lucien's mother have known David Davies?

      Let's explore this painter's life: In 1890, he left Ballarat to study in Paris at the Académie Julian under the tutelage of a certain Jean-Paul Laurens. Before then he had studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne under such notables as G.F. Folingsby. One year into his studies at the Académie Julian, he married his sweetheart with the same surname in a civil ceremony held at the British embassy. They settled in Cornwall, England in the town of St. Ives which was at that time an Australian expat hangout. The American expat James Abbott Mcneill Whistler who had spent sometime there painting seascapes had a profound influence on the Australian painters. David Davies carried back to his native Australia his love for Whistler's Tonalism painting her landscapes in the early evening light when her contours were softened. The couple settled in Victoria after the birth of their second daughter.

      St IVes, 1893 -- David Davies

      By 1897, they returned to St. Ives finally settling in Wales in 1900 upon the birth of their son. Health problems prompted them to leave for Dieppe, France only returning to London at the outbreak of the Great War, but he eventually returns there sending his paintings for display across the channel mostly of the French countryside and her villages. His only Australian one-person show took place in Melbourne in 1926 comprising twenty-one oils and fifty-two watercolors at the Fine Arts Society's gallery. In 1932, the family settled back in Cornwall.

      It would seem highly unlikely that David Davies could have crossed paths with the fictional Genevieve Ettienne for during that period of time he was probably in Europe. Dr. Blake was probably happily living with his young family when Davies passed away. He died in 1939 some three years before the fall of Singapore to the hands of the Japanese.

      Street Scene Dieppe watercolor -- David Davies

      Although quite a stretch for the imagination, the inclusion of one of Australia's greats into this murder mystery television series merely whetted my appetite to learn more about their burgeoning art scene. However in David Davies's case, he followed the path of the expat first studying in the provincial town of Ballarat and then later in Melbourne only to journey to Europe where he tarried for most of his life. He followed the tried and true pattern of artists, restless to explore different terrain under different light wandered abroad finding the heady air of Paris a delight from where he could travel throughout France and her neighboring countries and in Europe become surrounded by galleries and museums and ateliers setting examples from which to learn, explore and become inspired. And like many of these artists returned home to integrate what he had learned and discovered into his own emerging style. But unlike many painters, he left home for good without looking back at his kinfolk, friends, and neighbors.

      A Street in Dieppe Pencil and watercolour on paper -- David Davies

      Had Davies entertained mistresses or relied on muses for his inspiration and his paintings, it probably was not back in Australia. In Paris, he would have found many French woman as attractive as Genevieve Ettienne but settled for Janet Sophia Davies. Six days after David Davies died from cardiovascular disease, his wife Janet succumbed to pneumonia. It could very well have been a good marriage through its ups and downs. The couple was survived by their son and daughter and his legacy of paintings and perhaps hers too as she was also an artist. Why the need for a muse, indeed.

      Harlequin and Dancer, Dieppe by their daughter Gwendoline Davies



          Jonathan Wilner
          8 months ago

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          I have been to Perth, Australia, Mt. Helena which is in the hills about 30 kms outside Perth, and Melbourne and in the hills around Melbourne and these paintings absolutely capture the ruggedness of early Austrailain architecture and the beauty of the landscape.

          Untitled : could have been painted in the tree-covered parts of my friends' farm in Mt. Helena. The gum trees and the acacias, when in full bloom, give off a heady fragrance at night that can be smelled meters away. In the mid-day still air nary a leaf moves nor a cockatoo flies.

          Nocturne, Templestowe (1896) : on my friends' farm there was a dam with trees very much like these down in the lower pasture and we used to sit in the evenings and watch as the kangaroos came down for a drink in the gathering dusk. One old fellow had made a bed in front of the bedroom where I stayed and I greeted him every morning, one old codger to another.

          Untitled, Street Scene Dieppe watercolor & A Street in Dieppe Pencil and watercolour on paper : we spent a day wandering around Fremantle on the coast and the older buildings used 150+ years ago as old prison cells were very rough hewn, such as the buildings in these paintings, even the colors of the materials are the same even though Dieppe is in France. Uncanny.

          St IVes, 1893 : the only time I saw the Indian Ocean was a couple of weeks after a Great White Shark attack where a man was killed. The water looked cold and grey and very unpleasant, nothing like this idyllic painting, which I gather is not a scene from Australia and which, therefore, looks a tad out of place, although further north towards the equator there must be places that look like this.

          Harlequin and Dancer, Dieppe by their daughter Gwendoline Davies : reminds me of a Grecian plate of old.

          Very interesting selection. Once again, I thank you, sir.

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              Mykolai Mike Kolesinski
              8 months ago

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              He lived a good part of his life in St. Ives. in Cornwall England. And it was Whistler's old stomping ground as well. Again S/S

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