Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2016


(1879 – 1965)

oil on cardboard

61.0 x 46.0 cm

signed lower right: Bessie Davidson
signed and inscribed verso: Bessie Davidson / Fleurs

$50,000 – 70,000
Sold for $61,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 42 - 4 May 2016, Melbourne

Conrad Kickert, France
Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, 10 October 2014, lot 54
Company collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Bessie Davidson gives to Still Life with Flowers and Pears a rich textural appeal combined with a subtlety of colour sense that marks her out as an artist of outstanding ability. Its Impressionist vivacity, achieved especially through the lively strokes of the brush, belies the notion of still, creating a feeling of enjoyment in the vibrant blend of dancing light and colour. Like her compatriot Rupert Bunny, she lived most of her creative life in France, and also like Bunny, never gave up her Australian citizenship. This gave her art a unique quality through the combination of the directness of the Australian character with the subtlety and enjoyment of life of the French. It is no surprise to learn that Davidson was the first Australian woman to be elected to the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, more generally known as the ‘New Salon’. Her many other French achievements included founder-member of the Salon des Tuileries, and vice-presidency of the Société Nationale des Femmes Artistes Modernes. In 1931 she was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur for her contribution to French art. While it took her home country a long time to give her something of the recognition she deserved – in 1999 the Australian Embassy in Paris staged the exhibition Besse Davidson: Une Australienne en France 1880-1965 – international recognition of her art was well enjoyed during her own time. A regular exhibitor in Paris and London, her work was included in the 1938 L’Exposition du Groupe Feminin at the Petit Palais, and the 1939 exhibition of French art to tour the United States of America. Her international representation rivals that of many other Australians, being in the prestigious Paris collections of the Musée d’Art Moderne, Musée d’Orsay and the Musée du Petit Palais. Her paintings are also in The Netherlands, Edinburgh, and all major collections, public and private, of Australian art.

Born in Adelaide, Davidson was a student of Margaret Preston (then Rose McPherson), both sharing an interest in still life painting, travelling together and studying in Europe. While a sense of design and colour dominates Preston’s work, Davidson adds a touch of Parisian life and elegance to hers. The feeling of intimacy, of having the privilege of being alone with Still Life with Flowers and Pears, comes from its setting, most likely to have been painted in her Paris studio at Rue Boissonade, Montparnasse, where she lived from 1910. She gave her picture the simple yet embracing title ‘Fleurs’.