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The Art of Thomas Davies

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Introduction:

OVERVIEW:
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.


08521
painting
A View of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Taken from Cornwallis Island, with a Squadron Going off to Louisbourg
Thomas Davies
1757
08521

Commentaires:

watercolour, pen and black ink on laid paper
38.1 x 53.6


After two years in the Woolwich Academy, Davies was a second lieutenant and sent overseas. His artilleries were failing to draw the French out of port and they retired in Halifax. Davies arrived in Halifax and painted A View of Halifax in Nova Scotia. The painting is arguably containing some dryness in color compare to his later paintings. Some would argue that the subject seems to be too far for the viewer, nevertheless as Stacey argues, the drawing still have an important contribution to the iconography of Halifax (Thomas Davies 1972, 48).The painting emphasizes more on accuracy of objects ( e.g. the ships, the hills on the left) with some decorative patterns ( e.g. the trees).

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3753

oct 22, 2008


08530
painting
A View of the Plundering and Burning of the City of Grimross
Thomas Davies
1758
08530

Commentaires:

monochrome watercolour on laid paper
36.9 x 53.5 cm

In 1758, Davies painted the Plundering and Burning of the City of Grymross as a record of the destruction of every farm and building at Grimross (Hubbard 1972, 20). In this painting, I like the way Davies combine the story of the destruction with the sense of calmness through the illustration of well defined ships in the lake.

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3755

oct22, 2008


08520
painting
A View of Fort La Galette, Indian Castle, and Taking a French Ship of War on the River St. Lawrence, by Four Boats of One Gun Each of the Royal Artillery Commanded by Captain Streachy
Thomas Davies
1760
08520

Commentaires:

watercolour over graphite on laid paper
38.3 x 58.9 cm

In 1760, Davies describes the action of the French ship of war in water-color through the painting A View of Fort La Galette, Indian Castle, and Taking a French Ship of War on the River St. Lawrence, by Four Boats of One Gun Each of the Royal Artillery Commanded by Captain Streachy. The picture also includes some Indians and out of ordinary flowers (on the left) that I believe could be taken as an indication of Davies interests in wildlife.

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3756
oct 22, 2008


08525
painting
A View of the Casconchiagon or Great Seneca Falls, Lake Ontario, North America, Taken on the Spot 1766
Thomas Davies
1766
08525

Commentaires:

watercolour on wove paper


34.5 x 51.6 cm


In comparison to A View of Fort La Galette, Indian Castle, and Taking a French Ship of War on the River St. Lawrence, by Four Boats of One Gun Each of the Royal Artillery Commanded by Captain Streachy, Davies painting of A View of the Casconchiagon or Great Seneca Falls, Lake Ontario, North America in 1766 shows different quality of painting that describe the new development in Davies drawing skills. The later painting seems to have more breadth and color coordination than the former one with the combination of details in the Indian subjects.

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3758
oct 22, 2008


08523
painting
A View of Quebec, Taken near Beauport Ferry
Thomas Davies
1787
08523

Commentaires:

watercolour on laid paper

35.4 x 52.5 cm

The view of Quebec, taken near Beauport Ferry is one of the paintings drawn in the year of 1847. The viewers can see the city and its buildings that were perfectly drawn even though they will give the impression of a distance to the viewers.

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3762
oct22, 2008


08518
painting
A View near Point Levy opposite Quebec with an Indian Encampment
Thomas Davies
1788
08518

Commentaires:

watercolour over graphite on laid paper
35.1 x 52.5 cm

A View near Point Levy opposite Quebec with an Indian Encampment was made by Davies in 1788 that somewhat express similar composition with Paul Sandby's The Military Encampment in Hyde Park drawing (1780). Both paintings express active events of people and a combination of picturesque-aesthetic style. Paul Sandby clearly mastered the integration of picturesque and aesthetic style in his painting. The painting looks natural and captures the moment of daily lives at the camp. Eight years later, Davies is arguably tried to capture the event of daily activities in the Indian encampment. In my view, Davies almost successfully mixed the picturesque and the aesthetic style in his painting, but he still have stronger tendency of accurate composition (the shape of trees, the gesture of the Indians, the tepees formations) rather than a blend of topographical elements in natural painting.

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3765
oct 22, 2008


08643
drawing
The Military encampment in Hyde Park
Paul Sandby
1780
08643

Commentaires:

Please see author's text on A View near Point Levy opposite Quebec with an Indian Encampment

Sources:

http://www.najecki.com/repro/special/hydepark-3b.jpg October 26, 2008


08522
painting
A View of Montreal in Canada, Taken from Isle St. Helena
Thomas Davies
1762
08522

Commentaires:

watercolour over graphite on laid paper
35.3 x 53.5 cm

Please see author's text on the Montreal

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3757
oct22, 2008


08536
painting
Montreal
Thomas Davies
1812
08536

Commentaires:

watercolour over graphite on wove paper
34.2 x 52.2 cm

I found it interesting that the painting of A View of Montreal in Canada, Taken from Isle St. Helena is similar in a way with the Montreal. The former was created in 1762 and the later was created in 1812. A View of Montreal in Canada seems to have more beauty aesthetic and focuses on the leisure activity of the woman and the Indian figure, while the Montreal seems to concentrate on the group of buildings and the landscape patterns. The earlier painting is more likely to draw our attention to view the near-sighted events (the woman, the Indian figure, the canoe) with the backgrounds of landscape and buildings; the later painting is arguably gives us(the viewers) an impression of almost equal combination of objects (the trees, the landscape, the group of buildings, and the mountains) as a whole picture. In addition, the Montreal is the last picture of Thomas Davies about Canada. I agree with Hubbard that the picture is a masterpiece of composition and skills (1972, 62). Davies was successfully connecting the sub-subject in the picture. The borderlines that defined the landscape or the mountain were neatly painted and the combination of colors for the tree (light green to dark green) gave an impression of 'beauty in harmony' in painting.

Sources:

http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/search/artwork_zoom_e.jsp?mkey=3771
Oct 22, 2008


Conclusion:

In summary, Thomas Davies gave an important contribution of history to the Canadian Art through his paintings. During his visit to Canada, Davies produced topographical pictures of history of early Canadian settlements. His picturesque pictures of the society and nature at that time help us, current generation, and the next generation to study the Canadian contemporary landscape art.



Bibliography

National Gallery of Canada. As cited at http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/home_e.jsp (October 22, 2008).

Debra and New England Wolf Productions. 2007. as cited at http://www.najecki.com/repro/special/hydepark-3b.jpg ( October 26, 2008).

The Academy: Your Peace of History. As cited at
http://www.theacademy-woolwich.com/history.asp ( October 25, 2008).

Online Dictionary. 2008. As cited at http://dictionary.reference.com ( October 22, 2008)

The Art of Paul Sandby (Connecticut: New Haven, 1985),10-11.

Hubbard, R.H.(ed). Thomas Davies in Early Canada (Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1972).

Thomas Davies: An Exhibition Organized by The National Gallery of Canada ( Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1972).


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