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William Davis

Liverpool-based Irish landscape painter (1812 - 1873) influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites

William Davis (1812-73) was born in Dublin. The son of an attorney, he initially studied law. He quickly turned to art and trained at the Dublin Society. This was founded in 1731 to improve 'husbandry, manufacture and the useful arts and sciences'. Afterwards, he lived in Dublin and worked as a portrait painter before he moved to England. Davis began exhibiting at the Liverpool Academy in 1842 and is thought to have settled in the city around the same date. He joined the Liverpool Academy Schools as a probationer in February 1946 and became a student there in January 1847. He was elected an associate member in 1851. Full membership followed in 1853 and he was later employed at the Academy as the Professor of Drawing between 1856 and 1859.

Davis exhibited locally in Liverpool at the Liverpool Academy and the Walker Art Gallery, as well as in London at the Royal Academy. He showed 80 works at the Liverpool Academy between 1842 and 1867, and three at the Liverpool Institution of Fine Arts in 1863. Most of his work was commissioned or purchased by Liverpool patrons but the artist moved to London in 1870.

He had started as a portraitist and painter of still lifes but later came under the influence of the Liverpool landscape painter Robert Tonge (1823 - 1856), with whom he made a painting tour in Ireland in 1853. Davis had a reputation for preferring aspects of the landscape which some critics, including Ruskin, considered dreary and unworthy of painting. The small landscape pictures Davis began to paint from 1853 were popular with audiences and admired by the Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882) and Ford Madox Brown (1821 - 1893), who appreciated the down-to-earth character of the paintings. Aged 36 when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848, he was beyond his most impressionable years, being of an older generation than the London pioneers.

Davis was experimental in his use of paint and seemed indifferent towards what others might regard as correct methods of working. He also refused to sell work to dealers, whom he regarded as parasites. Although the London Pre-Raphaelites were admirers, Davis suffered disappointment throughout his career and failed to make a living from his paintings. He became dependent upon the patronage of the Liverpool-based merchant and collector John Miller (about 1796 - 1876), who regularly bought his pictures. The wealthy George Rae (1817 - 1902) was also a collector of his work.
  • Gender
    Male
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker
  • Nationality
    Irish
  • Born
    1812-08
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: Ireland: Dublin County: Dublin
  • Died
    1873-04-22
  • Place of death
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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