A large silver gilt Glasgow School swallows in flight brooch

I will stick my neck out and say that I think this is one of the most exceptional pieces of jewellery of the 20th century.  It is a very large brooch in silver gilt, the design being of seven stylized swallows flying through stylized clouds. It dates to c 1902 and is over 12 cm wide.  It’s scale, style, and design are decades ahead of its time.

The back of the brooch is signed PWD for Peter Wylie Davidson who is the maker and designer of the brooch, as discussed further below.

Peter Wylie Davidson (1870-1963) was born in Stirlingshire. He undertook a seven year silversmithing apprenticeship while attending evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. In 1897 he was appointed as Instructor in metalwork at the Glasgow School of Art, where he remained in various teaching roles until his retirement in 1935. He also ran his own studio and worked on designs for many of the leading Glasgow School designers including Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Jessie King . He wrote two books on metalwork and silversmithing and another on leatherwork. He exhibited regularly, locally and overseas.  He worked in a number of styles. sweeping swallows in flight and Celtic motifs feature regularly in his work. Glasgow Museums hold nineteen examples of his work, including his famous Time and Tide clock within the Glasgow Style Gallery.  It is well documented that Davidson (and his brother William Arthur) collaborated as makers with Charles Rennie Mackintosh on a number of occasions, including a silver box held by the V&A Museum reference M.29&A-1975 at this link, and also for the candlesticks for Miss Cranston’s home “Hous’hill”, now held by Glasgow Museums.

The design of this brooch is believed to date to c 1902 when a brooch, almost certainly of this design, was displayed at the Turin Exhibition. A similar example of this brooch is known, dated 1902 and it is thought PWD made five, all for family members.  Likely this is one such brooch.  A variant with hanging pearls was owned by Mary Newbery Sturrock – Fra Newbery’s daughter – see unsourced contemporary photo in other images after it was converted to a pendant (source: Larner, G. and C. The Glasgow Style, Edinburgh 1979).

Which brings us to the issue of the designer. The design of this brooch has consistently been attributed, or associated with, Charles Rennie Macintosh.  The reasons for that are both its design and history. Mary Newbery Sturrock, stated that her pearl hung swallow brooch was a gift from Mackintosh, and he was therefore the presumed designer. Additionally, the design is not at all like other jewellery PWD designed, and it is very like Mackintosh’s (or more generally the Glasgow Four’s) work – the wire work “cloud” very similar to Mackintosh’s designs and the swallow also one of his motifs.

Notwithstanding this, all my research unequivocally identifies PWD not just as the maker but also the designer. Critically PWD wrote a book “Educational Metalcraft” in which he is meticulous in identifying pieces he made for other designers (eg Jessie King), and pieces he designed himself. In all editions of this book, first published in 1913, he gives himself as the designer. See other images where I have reproduced the plate 80, page 40 from his book. Interestingly the design appears to be that of Mary Newbery Sturrock’s brooch.  Note also that the swallow in clouds motif appears frequently on other work by PWD.

How do we reconcile this apparent influence of Mackintosh? PWD was emersed in the Glasgow School work at the turn of the century, so it is no surprise he should be inspired by it. I think perhaps there is more than that; though I cannot prove it. For the Turin Exhibition, Newberry tightly coordinated the Scottish exhibits. The Mackintoshes were given gallery space for the Rose Boudoir, the Macnairs space for their Writing Room. I think quite probably PWD was similarly allocated cabinet space, and designs overall discussed and maybe even coordinated. So quite possibly PWD designed a brooch that fitted the Mackintoshs’ and Macnairs’ design themes and style.

This brooch is a museum piece that deserves its place in any timeline of jewellery design.  It is in excellent original condition.  Provenance is to Lyon and Turnbull auction October 21st 2021, lot 360.  Literature see Larner, G. and C. The Glasgow Style, Edinburgh 1979, plate 188.

I am grateful to Annette Carruthers and Pamela Robertson for their help in researching this piece.

Price range: Sold

Maker: Peter Wylie Davidson

Designer: Peter Wylie Davidson

Date: c. 1902

Marks: PWD

Material: Silver gilt

Condition: Excellent

Size: Width 12.25 cm, height 6.5 cm

Weight: 23 grams. 0.8 oz

SKU: A967-1 Category:

Additional information


Art nouveau, Arts and crafts