Thomas Davies

Thomas Davies

 Thomas Davies, soldier, artist, naturalist (b at Shorter's Hill, England 1737; d at Woolwich, England 16 March 1812). He studied watercolouring under Gamaliel Massiot at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and went on to exhibit his watercolours and paintings regularly at the Royal Academy from 1771 to 1806. As an officer in the Royal Artillery who eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-general, he received several postings to North America.

From 1757 to 1759 he served at Halifax, taking part in the successful attack on Fort Louisbourg and in Monckton's expedition to the St John River valley; from 1759 to 1760 he served under Sir Jeffery Amherst at Lake Champlain and Montréal, at which time his talents as a draughtsman came to Amherst's attention, possibly gaining Davies his appointment to assist with the survey of the new British territory around Lake Ontario for the next 3 years. Posted out of New York, he returned to the region from 1764 to 1768. Arising out of these tours of duty were the first accurate renderings of the cities and landscapes of Canada, including Halifax, Fort Frederick, Montréal and Niagara Falls.

Back in England, Davies published a set of 6 engravings of North American waterfalls in Scenographia Americana (1768). Davies's return to Britain also marked the beginning of his lifelong interest in natural history, and he entered the circle of men around Sir Joseph Banks, who were creating a new field of study. He began to exhibit his watercolours of North American and European flora and fauna and developed an expertise which led to fellowships in the Royal Society (1781) and the Linnean Society of London (c 1797). From 1776 to 1779 Davies served in New York, commanding Fort Washington on Manhattan Island during the American Revolution. His last posting in North America lasted from 1786 to 1790 at Québec City, where he commanded the Royal Artillery. Here he continued to study Canada's natural history and executed some of the finest watercolours of Québec City and its surrounding landmarks in a brilliantly coloured and precise style uniquely his own.

Today Thomas Davies is considered one of the most talented and original artists to have worked in Canada. His watercolours transcended the topographic tradition as he absorbed the light, texture and colour of Canada's natural world.

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Further Reading

  • R.H. Hubbard and C.P. Stacey, Thomas Davies (National Gallery of Canada, 1972); R.H. Hubbard, Thomas Davies in Early Canada (1972).