The Art of Thomas Davies
In the eighteenth century, before photography arises, the picturesque drawing was the only way of creating military records in Canada. The drawing emphasizes on accuracy and details to ensure that the viewers interpret the object as it is. Due to this demand, military artist such as Thomas Davies or James Cockburn was responsible for drawing many landscape sceneries across Canada. Thomas Davies contribution to the Canadian Art has earned him the title as 'an eighteenth-century Rousseau le douanier' to appraise his fullness of handling watercolor paintings (Hubbard 1972, 6). Arguably, some of Davies figure-like, composition, and spatial arrangements of objects in painting are Sandby-like who was well known as the 'Father of watercolor' in paintings at that time.
A Glimpse of Thomas Davies:
Thomas Davies was born in 1737 from the Welsh origin. In 1755 Davies joined the Woolwich Academy and took drawing lessons. Woolwich Academy was founded by King George II in 1741 with the goal of producing "good officers of artillery and perfect engineer" (The Academy: Your Peace of History. The focus of Woolwich Academy is the study of accuracy and detailed composition of objects since those aspects is needed for military records. During that time period (1768), Paul Sandby was appointed chief drawing master of the Royal Military College at Woolwich and he began to develop his technique and composition of drawing through combining topographical and picturesque elements in one painting (The Art of Paul Sandby 1985, 10-11). Davies picked up some of Sandby's technique to his drawing and developed this skill to advance his style.
According to Hubbard (Ed), Thomas Davies has two important contributions to the Canadian Art: his role as an iconographer of North America and his aesthetic quality of work (1972, 15). Davies primary position was in the military and he only visited Canada for 4 times in his life. Davies did not receive a full training as an iconographer. He learned the basic knowledge of topographical paintings (from the Woolwich Academy) and developed the skills through self-learning. Many art historians argued that this disadvantage actually allowing his originality among other landscape painters. The style that Davies developed in his paintings is elaborated from the basic topographical ('see it as it is') to its highest degree of decorative impressions.
Davies' style can be classified into three categories from the early paintings to his last paintings: ( Hubbard 1972, 15-17)
1. The diagrammatic ( the fundamental approach of military draftsman involving appropriate composition and arrangements of objects in paintings)
2. The picturesque ( the recapturing process of event into picture so the viewer can see it the way the artist see it)
3. The mature style ( the combination of diagrammatic and the picturesque in an advance manner)
The essay will analyze some of his paintings that illustrate the development of Thomas Davies military careers and artistic style. The analysis will also link Davies painting style with Paul Sandby's painting technique and the art approach from the Woolwich Academy.