Violet Davies was a Sydney based oil painter with an art career that lasted over thirty years. The daughter of Sarah and Wyndham Davies, Violet Ethel Davies was born in Paddington, New South Wales, in 1881. For most of her adult life she lived with her family at 123 Trafalgar Street, Stanmore, Sydney.
Violet Davies’ occupation, during most of her adult life, was listed on electoral rolls as 'home duties’ as were other female members of the household. Despite this she had an interest in art and was listed in an advertisement in a Royal Art Society exhibition catalogue as the Honorary Secretary of A. Dattilo Rubbo’s and J. Barclay Godson’s art school in Sydney in 1922 and 1923, an institution that was popular with women and commercial art students. It is not known whether she was a student of either of the artists.
Davies made her artistic debut with the Royal Art Society of New South Wales (RAS) in 1918 with a black and white portrait study. This work was not listed for sale. The following year she exhibited three works at the RAS Spring show: Study of a head (10 guineas); Marjorie (10 guineas); and Still Life (5 guineas). Titles of works in subsequent exhibition catalogues show that the artist worked mostly in oil, and mainly painted still life and portraits. Several of her still life works were flower studies; typical subjects were images of peonies, and persimmons.
While working as Honorary Secretary of Dattilo Rubbo’s art school, one of her works, The Musician (25 guineas), was illustrated in the 1923 RAS annual exhibition catalogue. The black and white reproduction shows a realist portrait of a violinist tuning his instrument.
In 1929 the RAS published a book titled Fifty Years of Australian Art . This in-house publication celebrated the first fifty years of the RAS. While most of the profiles were on the male artists in the Society there was a brief biography of Davies (p 85), accompanied by a photograph of the artist:
'A native of New South Wales, she has exhibited at the Royal Art Society for several years, and in Victoria and South Australia. She is one of the younger painters of promise.’
While the 1929 RAS biography mentions Davies exhibiting interstate, a search of catalogues of the Victorian Artists’ Society and the South Australian Society of Arts found no mention of the artist. As these were only two of many art groups active in South Australia and Victoria more research is warranted.
Fifty Years of Australian Art also included a colour reproduction of Davies’ work The Squatter’s Son (1928), (p 47). The portrait shows a young seated man putting on his riding boots. This work was on sale at the 1929 RAS show for 30 guineas.
While Davies worked for Dattilo Rubbo in the early 1920s, she was connected to a short lived art school in the late 1930s. An advertisement in the 1938 RAS annual exhibition catalogue lists 'Miss Violet Davies’ as the contact person for the Wynyard School of Art, Hopetoun House, 313 George Street, Sydney. It is not known what role she had at the school. At the time the electoral roll still listed her as occupied in 'home duties’.
Up to the early years of World War II, Davies exhibited one or two works at most of the RAS annual exhibitions. She received little mention in reviews of the RAS exhibitions, although the respected critic William Moore positively, yet briefly, noted two of her works in the 1923 and 1925 RAS Spring show ( Daily Telegraph , 10 August 1923 and 7 August 1925). The artist’s last contribution to the RAS was at the 1942 annual show where she exhibited four oils. It is not known why she ended her connection with the RAS.
No longer living with her family, Davies was listed in the 1943 electoral roll as an 'artist’ living at 39 Bent Street, Sydney. By 1949 she was still listed as an artist in electoral rolls but was now living in Warrimoo in the lower Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. The last record of her as an artist was in the 1954 electoral roll. Violet Davies died in 1956. There are no known solo exhibitions of her work.
Silas Cliffoed-Smith, DAAO