London Art Reviews

Magazine of art press and reviews from London

First major exhibition of Laura Knight at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

First major exhibition of Laura Knight at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

David Franchi – Wednesday, 23rd October 2013.

Self Portrait, 1913 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA, 2013

Self Portrait, 1913 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA, 2013

“Laura Knights Portraits” is one of the National Portrait Gallery, London, major exhibition for the 2013. Dame Laura Knight has been one of the most important British artists of the twentieth-century. Dame Laura Knight’s works are held in major UK public collections including Nottingham Castle Museum, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum, North and Imperial War Museum, London, National Portrait Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland and Tate Gallery.

The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery considers the life-long career of this artist, who created her ground-breaking “Self –Portrait” just one hundred years ago.

The Laura Knight Portrait exhibition included commissioned portraits alongside those of members from specific social groups such as circus performers and Gypsies. Other highlights included Laura Knight works from Cornwall, the ballet and war portraits. All these featured works together gave a slice of life of twentieth-century Great Britain.

Over 40 pieces were displayed including paintings and drawings. Works on show at Laura Knight Portraits were interesting and realised with deep attention to details. Dame Laura Knight was a brilliant drawer and had a very good figurative approach. She often employed bright colours and produced vivid paintings.

Dame Laura Knight, DBE, RA née Johnson, was born on the 4th August 1877 in Long Eaton in Derbyshire to Charles and Charlotte Johnson. She became the youngest pupil to attend the Nottingham School of Art aged just 13. In 1903 she married the artist Harold Knight. In 1907-8 the Knights moved to the artists’ community at Newlyn, Cornwall, where they found early success. Laura found the light and landscape inspiring and worked en plein air in an Impressionist style.

In this period Laura Knight produced her important “Self Portrait” which includes her friend, the ceramicist and enamellist Ella Naper,

The Nuremberg Trial, 1946 © IWM

The Nuremberg Trial, 1946 © IWM

posing as the model. As a student she had been denied access to nude models and in this painting Knight asserts herself as a serious professional artist committed to painting the figure.

After the First World War, the Knights moved to London, where Laura met and painted backstage, some of the most famous ballet dancers

of the day, such as Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with Lydia Lopokova and Enrico Cecchetti, and Anna Pavlova. Her most famous work dates from this period of Post-war London season.

In 1926 Laura and Harold travelled to Baltimore, USA, where he was invited to undertake several commissions at the John Hopkins Memorial Hospital. Laura obtained permission to work in the racially segregated hospital wards making drawings of the patients; including highly sensitive drawings of the children she met there. In the following decade she travelled for several months with Bertram Mills and Great Carmo’s touring circus painting the performers in and out of the ring.

Laura Knight was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1929, and in 1936 was the first woman to become a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts since its foundation in 1768, when founder members had included Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman. In 1965 her retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts was the first accorded to a female artist.

Knight registered her support for the aims of the Artists International Association and contributed to the Artists against Fascism and War exhibition in 1935. In the mid 1930s she spent a number of years painting Gypsies at the Epsom Races and, through the friendships she established there, was invited to a Gypsy settlement in Iver, Buckinghamshire. She visited every day for several months producing some of her most psychologically penetrating portraits which represent several members of the same family.

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring, 1943 © IWM

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring, 1943 © IWM

During the Second World War Knight produced a remarkable group of portraits of female members of the auxiliary air force and munitions workers for the War Artists Advisory Board, which were proposed to attract further female recruits. One of Knight’s most famous works from this period “Ruby Loftus screwing a breech-ring “(Imperial War Museum) was on display.

After the war, she was the official artist at the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazi war criminals. Those paintings are one of her most remarkable achievements. Painted when she was in her late sixties, having been appointed war correspondent, the multi-figure scene represents the view from the courtroom press box.

She continued to paint into the 1960s. She produced over 250 works in her lifetime as well as two autobiographies, “Oil Paint and Grease Paint” (1936) and “The Magic of a Line” (1965). She died in London on 7 July 1970, aged 92.

“Laura Knight Portraits” exhibition was at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 11th July until 13th October 2013.

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This entry was posted on October 23, 2013 by in Museums, Reviews and tagged , , , , .

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