The Monuments Men

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Leslie George Davie ( 1909-1999 )

Leslie George Davie was a British artist and potter. Born in London on September 26, 1909 as the son of a successful London banker, his early interest in art was contrary to the conservative wishes of his family. He worked a series of modest jobs during the Great Depression, including a brief stint as a banker, and also as a representative for a meat importer, an experience which inspired him to become a lifelong vegetarian. Although seemingly acquiescing to the pressures of his family, he was soon fired for bringing his art supplies to work with him. It seems that sketch books and watercolors were one thing, but the company drew the line at etching tools in the office.

Thus determined to pursue a professional career as a painter, a largely self-taught Davie embarked for France in the late 1930s. Inspired by the works of Paul Gauguin, he traced the artist’s movements through France, renting a studio Gauguin was known to have used and producing Gauguin-inspired works in Paris and Pont-Aven. Upon the outbreak of war between Germany and England, Davie was living at a vineyard in the Loire Valley. He returned to England as soon as possible and subsequently enlisted in the British Army.

Davie served in the Royal Army Service Corps, a large unit devoted to army supply and transportation similar to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He received several assignments as a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Middle East, including the guarding of an oil well in Iraq. He was rescued from this mundane posting by an officer who mentioned that the British MFAA was looking for volunteers with knowledge of art, to which Davie hurriedly applied. Initially assigned to Cairo, Egypt, he undertook studies in Greek in preparation for monuments work in the Greek Islands. Based in Athens, he assisted with the inspection of Byzantine monuments alongside fellow U.K. Monuments Men Lt. Col. Thomas J. “T.J.” Dunbabin and S/Sgt. D. L. Donn. Davie is believed to have consulted on restoration work at the damaged monasteries of Mount Athos as well as several churches near Athens.

Davie remained involved with the MFAA in Greece until at least August 1945. Upon his return to England, he began his formal studies in art at Goldsmiths, University of London, proving himself to be first a gifted student, and later a popular pottery teacher. In 1949 he relocated to Rye, Sussex, a historic town with a dynamic artist community. There, he helped found the Rye Society of Artists and taught art classes at Rye Secondary Modern School. During the 1950s and 1960s Davie managed a small pottery studio called Needles Pottery with his wife, a hand weaver. Although he found special joy in pottery, Davie also continued experimenting with many forms of artistic media, including oils, watercolor, etching, and linocut. Following his retirement in 1970, and the death of his wife in 1978, he devoted a considerable amount of time to his craft, traveling frequently on painting excursions to Portugal before moving to Cheshire, England to be nearer his daughter.

L. G. Davie died in Cheshire, England in August 1999.