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Gwendoline Davies (1882-1951) and Margaret Davies (1884-1963) were two sisters from mid-Wales who will be remembered as dedicated patrons of the arts, bequeathing one of the great British art collections of the 20th century to the National Museum of Wales.
Born into a wealthy family – their grandfather, David Davies of Llandinam, was a noted industrialist and philanthropist himself, who supported religious and educational causes – the two sisters used their inherited wealth to amass an outstanding art collection and support a wide-range of charities, cultural institutions and social issues in Wales.
The sisters were passionate about art and began collecting in 1908. They were amongst the first people in Britain to begin collecting French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism works. The sisters' experiences as volunteers during World War One were to have a profound effect on their lives. Serving as Red Cross volunteers, Gwendoline and Margaret were so moved by the suffering they witnessed that they resolved to establish a centre based around art and music where ex-soldiers could be rehabilitated. Gregynog Hall in mid-Wales was the location for the centre which also became home to the annual Gregynog Music Festival, attracting musical luminaries such as Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, and which still continues to this day. Passionate about social reform, the sisters also used Gregynog as a place to discuss social issues. Its conference attracted leading politicians, educationalists and peace and welfare campaigners debate the key issues of the day. In 1962, shortly before her death, Margaret Davies bequeathed the Gregynog Estate to the University of Wales for use as an educational conference centre.
Throughout their lives the sisters built up one of the finest art collections in Britain and on their deaths bequeathed 260 works of art to the National Museum of Wales. These works included celebrated pieces by Monet, Cezanne, Manet, Pissaro, Rodin and Van Gogh (his painting entitled Rain - Auvers is pictured above). The generosity of Margaret and Gwendoline Davies transformed the galleries' collection and the face of public art in wales. Their legacy acts as a fine reminder of their passion for art but also their compassion for people. Along with their brother, MP and philanthropist Lord Davies and their grandfather, the sisters could be described as being an integral part of Wales' first family of philanthropy.