Following his purchase of Madame, Davis commissioned McEvoy to paint the interior of the music room at his house in London, which was where Davis displayed some of the finest paintings and sculptures from his extensive collection.

This atmospheric work was painted by McEvoy in 1915 as his career as a fashionable portrait painter was beginning to gain momentum. It shows the interior of the music room at the home of Sir Edmund Davis, a notable art collector and patron.

Davis was born in Australia in 1862 and attended school at the Lycée Chaptal in Paris as a pupil of the flower painter Victor Leclaire. He abandoned his artistic path aged seventeen to go to South Africa where he made his fortune trading in ostrich feathers, guano and mining. He married his cousin, Mary Zilla Halford, with whom he shared a passion for painting and the couple settled in London. Their art collection included ancient sculpture and paintings by Rembrandt, Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough. They also collected modern art by Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Rodin and bequeathed a large part of this exceptional collection to a few chosen institutions such as the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris and...

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This atmospheric work was painted by McEvoy in 1915 as his career as a fashionable portrait painter was beginning to gain momentum. It shows the interior of the music room at the home of Sir Edmund Davis, a notable art collector and patron.

Davis was born in Australia in 1862 and attended school at the Lycée Chaptal in Paris as a pupil of the flower painter Victor Leclaire. He abandoned his artistic path aged seventeen to go to South Africa where he made his fortune trading in ostrich feathers, guano and mining. He married his cousin, Mary Zilla Halford, with whom he shared a passion for painting and the couple settled in London. Their art collection included ancient sculpture and paintings by Rembrandt, Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough. They also collected modern art by Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Rodin and bequeathed a large part of this exceptional collection to a few chosen institutions such as the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris and the National Gallery of South Africa in Cape Town.

Davis was also a keen collector of contemporary art and is known to have collected works by McEvoy. In 1915 he acquired Madame – one of McEvoy’s early masterpieces – which is now in the collection at the Musée d’Orsay. Following his purchase of Madame, Davis commissioned McEvoy to paint the interior of the music room at his house in London, which was where Davis displayed some of the finest paintings and sculptures from his extensive collection. The bust shown in McEvoy’s painting is the one that had been pointed-out by the Davis' friends Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon in the window of a shop on Piccadilly where it was unattributed; it was discovered to be a masterpiece by the French eighteenth century sculptor Houdon and valued at £20,000.

Biography

Ambrose McEvoy demonstrated his exceptional artistic abilities from a young age. Encouraged by his father, Captain Charles Ambrose McEvoy, and inspired by his father’s great friend, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, McEvoy enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art at the age of sixteen.[1] The young McEvoy established himself as a gifted genre painter; he explored rolling landscapes and intimate interior scenes whilst attracting attention from wealthy patrons and collectors, even at this early stage in his career.

During the mid-1910s, McEvoy ventured increasingly towards portraiture and the demand for his portraits rose concurrently. However, as with many artists, his career was interrupted by the First World War and in 1916 he was attached to the Royal Naval division and posted to the Western Front and the North Sea.[2] Following the horrors of this experience, his artistic zeal continued and he painted a series of portraits of naval officers and highly decorated lower-ranked soldiers.[3]

On his return, McEvoy was heralded as one of the most successful English society portrait painters of the early 20th century. His innovative style and florid methods endeared an emerging generation of young, wealthy and liberal-minded patrons. His famed depictions of human character and beauty, particularly of women, became sought after and he maintained an illustrious list of clients spread between the United Kingdom and America, where he was represented for a period by the most celebrated international art dealer of the day, Lord Duveen.[4]

However, this youthful success was to take its toll on McEvoy and he died in 1927, aged forty-nine. Critics writing shortly after his death were in little doubt as to the significance of his work; ‘the most refined aspect of early twentieth century society will live on in his work, and that alone ensures his position in history’.[5]

To this day, he has become famed for his depiction of women. In his obituary in The Times he was praised for his ability to paint female subjects in a manner that was both visually appealing, but also bespoke the profundity of his ‘thoughts about human beauty, particularly feminine beauty’.[6]

[1] E. A. Akers-Douglas, (ed.) L. Hendra, Divine People: The Art & Life of Ambrose McEvoy, (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2019) p.28.

[2] Akers-Douglas, (ed.) Hendra, Divine People, p.24.

[3] For more information on his portraits of officers, see Chapter 7. A Painter of Heroes in Akers-Douglas, (ed.) Hendra, Divine People.

[4] Akers-Douglas, (ed.) Hendra, Divine People, p.176.

[5] “Ambrose McEvoy”, Country Life, vol. 13, issue 1619, 28th January 1928, p. 106.

[6] "Mr. Ambrose McEvoy." The Times (London), 5th January 1927, p. 12.

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500 Years of British Art