Edith Fairfax Davenport, Orlando, Zellwood. The Orange Industry in Florida, 1936, mural for the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, 10 by 12 feet.

Edith Fairfax Davenport was a prominent figure in art development in central Florida. Not only was she the first American woman admitted to the French Academy, but she was also James McNeil Whistler’s niece. Davenport served for years on the jury of selection at the Florida Federation of Art’s annual exhibits and was elected president of the Federation in 1952.

Davenport grew up in Kansas City, Missouri where her father J. J. Davenport was mayor. Her first training in art came at Kansas City High School. The Kansas City Star (March 12, 1899) noted her work there, “A drawing from an anatomical cast by Miss Edith Fairfax Davenport is a good example of the thoroughness of the school.” She entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1905 as the first American woman to pass the examinations and be admitted officially to the school. After years in France, she opened a studio in Florence, Italy. Davenport received a decoration from King Albert of Belgium for her World War I paintings. Returning to the United States, she had exhibitions in New York City, Kansas City, Missouri and New Orleans.

J.J. Davenport built a home in Zellwood, some thirty miles north of Orlando in 1884. Edith Davenport first visited here for the winter season of 1912 and found friends in the Orlando art community. She was one of twenty-five people who met at the Albertson Library on January 15, 1924, to form the Orlando Art Association. The Orlando Sentinel noting her family ties to Whistler and her work in Paris, commented, “It is with pride and happiness that the new art association looks forward to having a Davenport exhibit here.” A week later, on January 21, the first exhibit held by the Orlando Art Association consisted of more than thirty of her paintings. Davenports association with Lou Halstead Jerome and Ruby Newby in the forming of the art association is noted by the Sentinel, with “the liveliest gratification.” 

Davenport is listed as an artist working for the government in the Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relied Administration, December 8, 1933-June 30, 1934. In 1936-1937 as part of the Florida Art Project, WPA, Davenport painted four large murals, ten by twelve feet, depicting the industries of central Florida, including The Cattle Industry, The Orange Industry, The Turpentine Industry and The Lumber Industry for the assembly hall of the Orlando Chamber of Commerce.

Edith Fairfax Davenport, Orlando, Zellwood. The Cattle Industry in Florida, mural for the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, 1938, 10 by 12 feet. 

From November 1937 to April 1938, she gave a series of five lectures on art history to the Gainesville Association of Fine Arts, presenting a comprehensive history of the world’s art, from the ancient art of the Far East, Aegean and Greek art, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval art, to the Renaissance and Modern art.

Edith Fairfax Davenport, Orlando, Zellwood. The Lumber Industry in Florida, mural for the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, 1937, 10 by 12 feet. 

At the Florida Federation of Art’s annual convention in December 1951 Davenport was elected president.

Davenport was active in the cultural life of Zellwood and Mount Dora. At Christmas time her painted figures for the Nativity scene were lighted on the lawn of Mount Dora City Hall and in the summer months before her death in 1957, Davenport offered free art lessons for school age children at Mount Dora High School. When she died in Winter Park in 1957 the Orlando Sentinel (November 3, 1957) noted her death with a review of her life and commented, “Miss Davenport filled her life with enough accomplishments for two persons…. There were no survivors.”

Davenport was a cousin of James McNeill Whistler and Whistler’s Mother was her aunt. Davenport made a copy of this famous painting, now in the Louvre, by special permission of the curator of the Luxembourg Gallery, where the canvas then hung. Davenport was able to make the copy the exact size of the original, and with an identical frame, this painting now hangs in the Whistler House, Lowell, Massachusetts, birthplace of Mrs. Whistler, on permanent loan to the Lowell Art Association.

Born: July 13, 1880, Kansas City. Died: November 1, 1957, Winter Park. Education: Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris (four years). In Paris under Raphael Collins, Laurens, Humbert; Sculpture, in Paris with Jean Antonine Injalbert; In Florence, Italy. Membership: Florida Federation of Art, 1930’s thru 1950’s, president, 1952; Orlando Art Association; Mount Dora Art League; Florida Artist Group, 1951; American Federation of Arts; New Orleans Art Association; North Shore Art Association, Gloucester, Mass.; Southern States Art League, director and Florida representative; Society of Independent Artists; Association of American Etchers. Exhibits: Hug-Sarachek Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri, November 1920, one man exhibit of eight paintings including, Whistler’s Mother ( the copy made in Paris), a portrait of J. J. Davenport (her farther living in Zellwood, Florida), portrait of Helen R. Parson at Western Galleries of Art, portrait of J. W. Paul and two Florida landscapes; Conrad Hug Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri, two portraits, Two Camp Fire Girls, Camp Fire Girls, Portrait of Rhea Sheldon (a Kansas City artist) and Florida landscapes; Albertson Public Library, Orlando, January 21-31, 1924, Girl with Guitar-Paris ( a self-portrait), Portrait of Whistler’s Mother, Portrait of Mr. Jos. J. Davenport, The Fairy Story- Paris, A Brown Study, Florida Days, Portrait of Mr. J. W. Paul-Zellwood, Sketches on Lake Maggiore-Zellwood, The Auld Haus-Zellwood, The Landmark-Zellwood, Anxious Moments-Zellwood, After Lunch-Zellwood, The Lark, Picardy- France, Portrait of Mr. John Sites Ankeny, Professor of Art, Columbia University, Missouri, La Belle Creole-Courtyard of New Orleans, By the Window-New Orleans 1865, Portrait of Miss Grace King-New Orleans, The Locket-New Orleans 1865, The Bouquet Interior-New Orleans; Italian Street Player-Florence, Old Man-St. Cloud-France, Feeding the Pigeons-Cathedral of St. Marks-Venice, Lake Tanecomo-Missouri, Monte Morello-Florence; Kansas City, February 1925, Impressions of Louisiana, one man exhibit of 38 paintings; Southern States Art League circuit, 1926, On the Balcony in Old New Orleans; Orlando Art Association at Chamber of Commerce, November 1930; Florida Federation of Art, annual circuit, January 1931, Tampa Art Institute, Municipal Auditorium, Tampa, Aunt Julie’s Charge, Uncle Clement; Orlando Art Association, at Chamber of Commerce, December 1931; Florida Federation of Art, annual circuit, 1932; Gainesville Association of Fine Arts, new studio, 131 Union Street, Gainesville, February 9, 1934, The Basket Maker; Southern States Art League, St. Petersburg, April 1934, oil, Nan Alyachi-Peace Maker, charcoal drawing, Dominoes; Orlando Art Association meeting at Orlando Chamber of Commerce, November 10, 1934, finished mural of The Orange Industry in Orlando; Art Mart, Washington Street Arcade, January, February, March 1935; Federal Art Project, Florida State Fair, Tampa, June 1937, working sketches of murals of the orange, turpentine industries (the finished paintings were hanging in the Orlando Chamber of Commerce building and Davenport was working on a similar series on the lumber and cattle industries); Florida Federation of Art Annual, Society of The Four Arts, Palm Beach, December 1938, member jury of selection; Orlando Art Association, Chamber of Commerce, January 1938, charcoal portrait, Aunt Jili’s Charge; Sarasota Art Association, 9th Annual Exhibit, Ringling Museum, February 1939, jury of awards; Florida Federation of Art Annual, Miami Beach, December 7, 1945, jury of awards; Zellwood Public Library, mural; Chamber of Commerce, Orlando, mural; Florida Federation Art, December 1950; Florida State Fair, Tampa, February 1952; Palm Beach Art League, 34th Annual Members’ Exhibit, March 1952, Still Life; Mount Dora Art League, downtown stores and the First National Bank, November 1952; Zellwood Public Library, October 1956. Directory: Listed in Orlando City Directory, 1932-1933, 1937 as an artist with studio at Zellwood. 

Edith Fairfax Davenport, Orlando, Zellwood. The Turpentine Industry in Florida, mural for the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, 1935, 10 by 12 feet. 

A close look at The Turpentine Industry mural, bottom left, notes, Edith Fairfax Davenport assisted by Orlando artists Elma Berner and George Sternberg. 

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