Bessie Davidson, born in Adelaide in 1879, was active in Parisian artistic circles, and exhibited frequently and to considerable acclaim throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Madame Le Roy assise de dos dans un intérieur was painted in Paris, probably around 1920. It is a closely and affectionately observed domestic scene, which depicts Davidson’s close friend Marguerite Le Roy, reading in Davidson’s Montparnasse apartment. Evoking a mood of feminine domesticity and quiet solitude, it belongs to the distinctively French genre of portraits intérieurs, most famously expressed in the work of Bonnard, and also popular with other Australian expatriates in Paris such as Rupert Bunny. Painted loosely using a characteristic post-impressionist palette of tertiary colours, the work is filled with a soft light which enters through the window. Davidson has allowed the warm tones of the unprimed cardboard on which it is painted to remain visible, also the charcoal underdrawing.
In 1904, in the company of her friend and former teacher Margaret Preston, Davidson left Australia for the first time. After a brief period of study in Munich, the two women moved to Paris where Davidson enrolled at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1907, Davidson and Preston returned to Adelaide where they again shared a studio and exhibited together. In 1910, Davidson returned to Paris alone, and apart from two short visits to Australia, was to live in France for the remainder of her life.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002