European Printmaking: Dürer,

Rembrandt, Whistler and John from the Davies Collection


Gregynog Prints

GREGYNOG PRINTS, an exhibition and catalogue researched and curated by Robert Meyrick, brought to public view for the first time the print collection of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies

IN 1952 MARGARET DAVIES donated five engravings by Albrecht Dürer, three etchings by Rembrandt and two by Anders Zorn to the National Library of Wales in 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 the Davies’s print collection, framed on the walls or for the most part mounted in portfolios, passed to the University of Wales along with Gregynog Hall and its contents in 1963.  These prints were transferred to Aberystwyth University’s School of Art Museum in 1989.

While 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 others, the prints, like their ‘Old Masters’ and 18th- and 19th-paintings of the British school were acquired less methodically.  There are the prints by artists whom they knew: Hugh Blaker, his friend John Whitcombe, curator of the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and a fine group of etchings by the Welsh artist Frederick Charles Richards whose work had been introduced to the sisters by Thomas Jones, their closest friend and confident.  As one might expect there is a fair representation of contemporary French printmaking including work by Brouet, Forain, Lepère and portrait etchings of Berthe Morisot by Renoir and Rodin by Alphonse Legros.  British etchers at the turn of the century, however, are less well represented although there are individual etchings by Frank Brangwyn and D. Y. Cameron and four prints by the Scottish etcher William Strang.

The sisters subscribed to the Print Collectors' Club, which was established in 1921, and in return received a limited edition presentation print annually: prints by Stanley Anderson, Alfred Bentley, Gerald Brockhurst, Malcolm Osborne, Raymond Ray-Jones and William 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 Albrecht Dürer, three etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn (a self portrait, a landscape and a biblical scene illustrate 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.  Blaker had been long-time admirer of John’s work, indeed he had thirty-five examples in his own collection.

It soon became clear 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 were never displayed at 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 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.

Robert Meyrick Gregynog Prints: European printmaking from Dürer to Augustus John (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales and School of Art Press, 1994) 64pp, ISBN 1 899095 02 0

See also

Robert Meyrick Augustus John Gregynog Festival Exhibition No. 1 (Aberystwyth: School of Art Press, 1990)

pp. 1-16

and the touring exhibition

    Gregynog Prints: European prints, Dürer to Whistler from the Davies Sisters’ Collection

    Gregynog Festival Exhibition No. 5, Gregynog Hall, Newtown (June – July 1994)

    National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth (1 November – 17 January 1994)

    National Museum & Art Gallery of Wales, Cardiff (August – September 1994)

    Scolton House & Museum, Haverfordwest (April – May 1995)

    Cooper Gallery, Barnsley (16 April – 25 May 1996)

    Victoria Art Gallery, Bath (22 June – 2 August 1996)

    Abbot Hall Museum & Art Gallery, Kendal (12 February – 14 March 1997)

    School of Art Gallery & Museum, Aberystwyth (December 1996 – 7 February 1997)