BESSIE ELLEN DAVIDSON (1879-1965)
Bessie Ellen Davidson was born in North Adelaide in 1879. Showing an early interest in art, Davidson began to study art in 1899 under the tutelage for Margaret Preston (then known as Rose McPherson).
After some early successes such as being exhibited in the South Australian Society of Arts in 1901-03, Davidson left Adelaide with Margaret Preston to travel to Europe. After studying briefly in Germany, Preston and Davidson settled in Paris. Bessie studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière where she was taught by masters such as Raphael Collin, Gustave Courtois and René-Xavier Prinet. Admiring the styles of Pierre Bonnard and Paul Cézanne, Davidson's own artistic practise was highly influenced by the contemporary scene and she found relatively early acceptance into several prestigious French institutions including the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and was a founding member of the Salon des Tuileries.
Returning to Adelaide at the end of 1906, Bessie and Preston held a joint exhibition in 1097 and in 1908 The National Gallery of South Australia purchased a portrait of Davidson's friend, Gladys Reynell.
Missing the bustling European art scene, Davidson returned to Paris in 1910 where she continued to find favour in major French institutions and travelled extensively around Europe including Russia. After briefly returning to Australia in 1914, Bessie Davidson returned to Paris upon the outbreak of World War 1.
Wanting to contribute to the war effort, Davidson joined the French Red Cross as a nurse. Her skill and quick thinking led to her promotion and she eventually ran a hospital for injured soldiers.
France became Davidson's home and she lived there for the remainder of her life. After World War 1 her paintings were frequently exhibited and she became of darling of the critics. In 1930 Davidson was recognised as one of the most important female artists in France when she was made vice-president of La Societe Nationale Femmes Artistes Modernes.
Over the next following years Davidson was a founding member of the Societe Nationale Independentes, appointed to the Legion d'honneur as well as partaking in L'Exposition du Groupe Feminin in 1928. Her works were also featured in the International Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute and the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in London and Venice.
Choosing to remain in France for the duration of World War 2, Davidson moved with friends to Grenoble to wait out the war. She continued to paint and returned to Paris in 1945.
By the end of her life Bessie Davidson was arguably more French than she was Australian and found acceptance into the establishment when many had tried and failed. Like Margaret Preston, Davidson never lost her love for interior scenes as well as landscapes. From the 1930s onwards she embraced the dramatic colour and expressive brushstrokes favoured by the early modernists. Davidson passed away in 1965 in Montparnasse. Her works are held by several major public institutions in Australia including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.