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THE OLGA DAVENPORT COLLECTION
'I went into the Gallery last week and I thought again how beautiful your pictures look, quiet, personal, bold without aggression, lyrical colour, you have arrived at something very much your own, they are right. Pictures are either right or wrong and no one can really say why'
(letter from William Scott to Olga Davenport, hand-written and dated 6th May 1969).
This is how William Scott describes Olga Davenport's paintings at her first one-woman show at the Piccadilly Gallery in 1969. Olga Davenport was not merely an accomplished artist (see lots 4, 13, 30, 39-40), or a collector; but her deep friendships with British artists from the 1950s onwards place Davenport as a key and perhaps surprisingly influential figure in the British art scene of the time.
Of the pictures assembled by Davenport and offered in this sale, each entered her life through her own sensibility, taste and sometimes sheer fortuitousness. Her collection helps us to define an era; yet her choices were not completely representative. She was not a democratic collector, selecting a signature piece by each of the leading artists. As an artist, she entered into exclusive dialogues and relationships with some of the greatest British modernist artists of the epoch and in turn acquired a unique selection of works that she bought or was gifted directly.
In collecting and painting, Davenport was intensely independent and from an early age she knew her pre-destined path was to become a painter. Born in South Africa in 1915, she first exhibited a painting at the South African Academy at the age of fifteen. Her father, the distinguished and major architect, J. M. Solomon was a pertinent influence. By the age of thirty-four he had worked with the great Edwin Lutyens in London, designed the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the University of Cape Town and helped the Michaelis Gallery inaugurate their collection with the aid of his friend Hugh Lane. As Solomon wished to form a cultural realm in South Africa, Davenport was, in time, to initiate her own.
The early death of her father took Davenport and her family to England. Following in her mother Jean's footsteps, she entered the theatre and chance led her into the dance company of Anton Dolin. Davenport went on to be an actress with her first leading role in London at the Apollo theatre opposite Francis Sullivan. Her performances multiplied and the press hailed her as a new star. Davenport graduated to the silver screen acting in a number of films including Caesar & Cleopatra (1946) and A Christmas Carol (1951).
At this time, Davenport had met Mark Gertler who took an interest in her painting, and between theatre engagements she studied with him at the Westminster School of Art. Through Gertler and his wife, Davenport became life-long friends with many artists including Matthew Smith and Ivon Hitchens. Her artistic foundations proved too strong to uproot and during a visit to Arezzo, Davenport gave up her successful career as an actor to take up painting full-time. She studied at Chelsea Polytechnic, the Royal College of Art and perhaps most fundamentally - Peter Lanyon's School in St Ives.
In St Ives, Davenport was to meet and befriend some of the greatest British artists of the 20th Century. She spent hours at Eagle's Nest (see lot 30), and Elm Tree Cottage. She sat on the board of the Bear Lane Gallery and formed relationships with influential people such as Clement Greenberg and Pauline Vogelpoel. She acquired important paintings for her own collection from artists including Patrick Heron (lots 1, 3, 5, 29 & 32), Roger Hilton (lot 35), William Scott (lots 36-38) and Terry Frost (lot 18).
Olga Davenport's first husband, the novelist and RAF pilot Anthony Baerlein, was killed in action during World War Two. She subsequently married the radical city economist, Nicholas Davenport, and at home, in their country residence, Hinton Manor, they held court to the most influential radical artists, economists, philosophers, and politicians of the day.
The front cover of this catalogue is a perfect capstone to this collection and Davenport's life - a work by the artist she most admired, one that embodies the importance of British art of the time and the artist who comes closest to her own beautiful paintings.