Sir Martin Davies' Papers

Scope and Content

The papers concern six different areas of his life: his gallery activities during wartime; his work on a variety of publications; his work with the Courtauld Institute; the Museums Association; the Council for Places of Worship and with the Reform Club. The main bulk of the papers concern MD in his official role with each institution: there are no personal or family papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Martin Davies was born in Cheyne Walk, London on 22 March 1908, the younger son of Ernest Woodbine Davies and Elizabeth Eleanor Davies. He attended Rugby School and went up to Cambridge in 1926 where he studied Mathematics and Modern Languages.

He joined the National Gallery (NG) as an honorary attache in October 1930 and became part of the permanent staff on 1 January 1932 as an Assistant Keeper.

During the Second World War he played an essential role in protecting the NG pictures and orchestrated their safe storage at Manod Quarry in North Wales. Davies' war time duties provided him with an exceptional opportunity for close study of the NG pictures and he began work on a series of catalogues which became renowned for their new approach to the study of pictures (where possible Davies referred to original source material).

In 1947 he became Deputy Keeper of the NG and in 1960 (on the death of William Pettigrew Gibson) he became Keeper. On 1 January 1968 he became Director: a post he held until his retirement on 30 September 1973.

Davies never married. He devoted his life to the NG and other related causes. His social life - at least in later years - centred on the Reform Club, where he dined almost every evening. He was appointed CBE in 1965 and knighted in 1972.

Davies died of cancer in a London Hospital on 7 March 1975.


The papers have been arranged into series, each representing a different area of Martin Davies's life. They have been maintained, as far as possible according to their original order

Access Information


It is the responsibility of the reader to determine the exact copyright status of a work.

Other Finding Aids

The most recent and complete list is held on CALM ALM. A paper list is also available at the National Gallery Archive.

Archivist's Note

Catalogue revised by C Brough, May 2015

Conditions Governing Use

The papers are available to researchers by appointment with the Archivist.

Appraisal Information

Records were appraised prior to transfer to the archive and all records have been retained

Custodial History

The papers were collected by Martin Davies until his retirement in 1973. They were transferred to the Archive at an unknown date.


None expected

Related Material

See NG16/59: Registry files: Martin Davies for official correspondence; NG30 and NG34 for National Gallery wartime photographs.

Twelve letters from MD to Bernard Berenson held by the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence.

Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, letters in the W.G. Constable Archive [Ref. WGC] and Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse Archive [Ref. EKW].


Suzanne Bosman, The National Gallery in Wartime. London 2008