The Davies sisters

Gwendoline (left) and Margaret Davies. Images courtesy of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

Last updated: 25 January 2011

Gwendoline and Margaret Davies were social philanthropists from mid Wales who amassed one of the largest art collections in the UK.
(Photos courtesy of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales)

Gwendoline and Margaret, born in 1882 and 1884 respectively, were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, a wealthy industrialist who made his fortune from contracting, coal-owning, railways and the docks at Barry.

The two sisters were brought up in a strict Welsh nonconformist tradition in Plas Dinam, Montgomeryshire, remaining strict Sabbatarians and teetotallers until their deaths. Neither Gwendoline nor Margaret married.

In his legacy, David Davies left Gwendoline and Margaret £500,000 each and although they had no tradition of art appreciation, the money enabled them to become passionate collectors of art from around 1908 onwards.

Under the guidance of their advisors, they initially bought paintings by the likes of Turner, Corot and Millet but were encouraged to buy the works of Carrière, Monet and Rodin. By 1924, they had amassed the largest collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in Britain.

Having travelled widely in Europe, the sisters settled at Gregynog Hall, five miles from Newtown. Here they created a centre for the arts in Wales and founded the prestigious Gregynog Music festival, attracting the likes of Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Holst. The festival still survives to this day, taking place every June.

They established The Gregynog Press (Gwasg Gregynog), producing limited edition books of rare beauty with fine hand-coloured illustrations, superb typography and engraving all beautifully bound by hand. These books are today revered by collectors the world over.

Like their brother, Lord Davies of Llandinam, the sisters were active social philanthropists, contributing to many educational and social causes. They had run canteens for the troops in World War One, and in World War Two they allowed Gregynog to be turned into a convalescent home for injured soldiers.

Gwendoline died in 1951 and in 1960, Margaret made a gift of Gregynog and its contents to the University of Wales, which has used it since as an inter-collegial conference centre. Margaret died in 1963.

The Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown, which was designed in 1967, was also built with a bequest from the sisters.

Between 1951 and 1963, they bequeathed 260 works to the National Museums and Galleries of Wales - completely transforming its art collection with works such as Renoir's famous La Parisienne, Monet's Rouen Cathedral and Rodin's The Kiss.

Thanks to them, Wales has a truly outstanding collection of art.

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