July 7th Dame Laura Knight (Death)

Derbyshire – born Dame Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) worked in oils and watercolours, etchings and engraving.

Born Laura Johnson, into a lace-factory owning family, she grew up in relative poverty after her father became bankrupt and abandoned the family. In 1889, Knight was sent to French relatives, also in the lace-making business, to learn the business and to study art in Paris but she was forced to return when her French relatives also went bankrupt.

Knight’s mother, Charlotte Johnson, taught at the Nottingham School of Art and she replaced her mother as a teacher whilst also winning a scholarship to study at the, then, South Kensington School of Art. Within a couple of years, Knight’s mother, sister and both grandmothers died leaving very little money and making her the archetypal, desperately poor, artist in a garret. 

It was at Kensington that she met Harold Knight (October 3rd), a fellow student, and they married in 1903, moving to Cornwall in late 1907. The Knights moved first to Newlyn, before moving to Lamorna and became, along with Lamorna Birch (June 7th) and A.J. Munnings, the central figures in the Newlyn School of Art.

Laura Knight spent the summer of 1908 painting on the Newlyn and Penzance beaches and her work ‘The Beach’ (pictured below left) was exhibited at the Royal Academy (1909) to great acclaim.

At this time Knight began her impressionist, ‘plein air’, style of painting which, although objected to by some of her subjects, was entirely supported by Colonel Paynter of Boskenna who also supported Mary Wesley (June 24th) after Wesley’s separation from Lord Swifden. In 1913, Knight started painting ‘Lamorna Birch and his Daughters’ (bottom left) in 1913 but did not complete it until 1934, the same year in which she was elected to full membership of the Royal Academy.  With a wide range of interests, over the next decades, Knight painted boxers, circuses and travellers, often sitting in the back of her Rolls Royce motorcar which was large enough to accommodate her easel.  When in London, she would go to the ballet as often as possible and sketch throughout the performances. In 1944 she painted ‘Take Off’, the crew of a Stirling bomber (below right).

Dame Laura Knight RA continued working almost until the day of death in 1970.

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