(1812 - 22 April 1873)
[Bryan's Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1901-2]
Irish painter trained in Dublin and exhibited portraits at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1833 to 1835. He was in Sheffield in 1837 and by 1846 was in Liverpool, probably drawn there by the flourishing Liverpool Academy. He exhibited at the Academy from 1842 to 1844, became a Member in 1853 and Professor of drawing from 1856 to 1859. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy in London (1851-72) and at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition (1871-3). He turned from figure and still-life subjects of game to landscape painting c. 1853, probably persuaded by his chief patron, John Miller, and influenced by the Liverpool landscape painter Robert Tonge (1823-56) and later by the Pre-Raphaelites. During the late 1850s Davis was a member of the Hogarth Club in London. [answers.com]
William Davis was a nineteenth-century Irish artist who was heavily influenced by the English Pre-Raphaelite art movement. He was born in Dublin, where he received training in drawing and painting. He also began his professional career in his homeland, where he worked as a portrait artist. In the early 1840s he relocated to England, settling in Liverpool, where he exhibited at the Academy there. In 1851 his work had drawn sufficient attention and regard to be invited to exhibit at the Royal Academy in London. At this point in his career he focused on scenes from daily life and still lives, but by the early 1850s he was engaging largely in landscapes.
Such a significant change in subject matter may be attributed to his chief patron, John Miller, and also by the influence of the landscape painter Robert Tonge, who was also a resident of Liverpool. His interest in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood drew the attention of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. Rossetti was one of the founders of the movement and his approval of Davis' work was viewed as a significant benefit to the new artist's career. The Pre-Raphaelites intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach adopted by the famous artists that followed the period when Raphael and Michaelangelo were active. They were especially against the broad technique and painterly manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was the reigning English artist of the mid to late eighteenth century. Brown helped to arrange important introductions for Davis, and it was through Brown that he was invited to join the Hogarth Club.
Despite the support of such prominent artists, Davis did not meet the expectations of famed art critic John Ruskin, who was unenthusiastic about Davis' work. While he did not openly criticize him, he took the unusually punishing decision to ignore Davis entirely. This effectively harmed Davis' future success. However, modern critics regard Davis' work as "the quintessence of Pre-Raphaelite landscape painting" and that "They are loving depictions of utterly insignificant subjects, painted with a luminosity created by floating glazes over a white ground, a delicate and difficult technique." Unfortunately, contemporary art critics did not recognize such qualities, and his patronage was limited mostly to George Rae and John Miller. According to Ford Madox Brown, Rae and Miller were Davis' sole means of support, which was humiliating, in Davis' view.
Davis apparently had an overly-sensitive temperament, and was easily offended, possibly due to his chilly reception by Ruskin and other art critics of the day. Regardless, his personality issues may have prevented him from acquiring additional patrons and supporters.[biography-center.com]