Bessie Davidson & Sally Smart Show the Charm of the Parisian Avant-Garde

Bessie Davidson, 'Lecture au jardin' (detail), oil on wood. The Max and Nola Tegal Collection © AGSA

Celebrating Australian female artists, Bendigo Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition on Bessie Davidson and Sally Smart, from the 20 March to 21 June 2020.

In contrast to many artist who chose to return to Australia, Davidson was one of the few who chose to remain in Europe, firmly establishing herself within the vibrant artistic milieu of Paris’s Montparnasse. During the course of her career, Davidson received many accolades and awards including being made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour – the highest award conferred by the French government.

Bessie Davidson was one of a group of female Australian artists who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, expanded her life and artistic career by travelling to the renowned cultural centres of Europe, most notably Paris and London.

While Davidson’s work has been largely overlooked in Australia, stories of Bessie Davidson’s life as an artist living in Paris were a frequent part of conversations in artist Sally Smart’s childhood home in rural South Australia. Bessie was Sally’s great aunt – her legacy empowered this renowned Australian artist to follow her own artistic ambitions. This exhibition brings together more than 50 works that highlight Davidson’s ‘modern French impressionist’ style of painting – with light filled domestic interiors, landscapes and portraits of women. In addition, the gallery has invited Sally Smart to create a new body of work responding to and developing upon the cultural legacy of Davidson as a pioneering female South Australian artist – firmly placing the work of this ground-breaking artist back into the story of Australian art history.

Sally Smart on set of Paris Performance: Twilight with dancers Deanne Butterworth and Jo Lloyd, 2019 (Photograph: Jeff Busby)

Smart, who recently retraced Davidson’s life in Paris, has worked with leading dancers Deanne Butterworth and Jo Lloyd to create a new cross-disciplinary video installation that represents Davidson’s relationship with lifelong friend, and rumoured lover, Margaret Preston. This newly commissioned work “embodies the timeless psychological tensions for these women, grappling with the avant-garde in art and life, at a traumatic period in human history – with war, isolation, gender, and modernity," and will be shown alongside a survey of key works from Smart’s Australian and international collections.

To see a uniquely Australian interpretation on Parisian avant-garde, make sure you check out this free event - Bessie Davidson & Sally Smart: Two artists and the Parisian avant-garde - before June!


Dates: 20 March - 21 June 2020

Location: Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo

Times: Open Mon- Sun 10am-5pm

Cost: Free

Bendigo Region Website