As we saw last time, in spite of the poverty, deprivation, terrible living conditions and the experience of pain and grief which so distressed Harold, Laura acknowledged that their life in Staithes was the time when she discovered herself as an artist
Remember that this all happened at the end of the Belle Epoque in society and the arts. Staithes was a long way from all this. They were now married and settled in their life together.
When they arrived in Newlyn in 1907, there was already an established colony of artists working there, among whom were Stanhope Forbes, Frank Bramley and Henry Scott Tuke. They were made welcome by Forbes, the acknowledged leader of the group.
Stanhope Forbes, A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, 1885, oil on canvas, City Museum & Art Gallery, Plymouth, UK
Writing to his mother in 1894, the painter Stanhope Forbes described Newlyn as ‘a sort of English Concarneau, and is the haunt of many artists’. Aware of the work of Bastien-Lepage and keen to explore plein air painting and rustic naturalism, Forbes had travelled to Brittany in 1891–2 in the company of his friend Henry La Tangue. They visited the artists’ colonies of Quimperlé and Concarneau where Jules Bastien-Lepage had settled in 1883. On his return to Britain, Forbes made his way to Newlyn and found there another colony dedicated to plein air realism. He decided to stay.
Frank Bramley, A Hopeless Dawn, 1888, oil on canvas, 123 168 cm, Tate Gallery, London, UK
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, with the following quotation from Ruskin:
‘Human effort and sorrow going on perpetually from age to age; waves rolling for ever and winds moaning, and faithful hearts wasting and sickening for ever, and brave lives dashed away about the rattling beach like weeds for ever; and still, at the helm of every lonely boat, through starless night and hopeless dawn, His hand, who spreads the fisher’s net over the dust of the Sidonian palaces, and gave unto the fisher’s hand the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’
The print after Raphael’s cartoon of ‘Christ giving the Keys to St Peter’ represented on the wall on the right has evidently been placed there deliberately to bear out the text. An open Bible lies in front of the missing fisherman’s mother who is comforting the young wife. A candle placed on the window-sill as a beacon has flickered out.
The Naturalist style was viciously criticised by Sickert, as a result of which all the Newlyn members left the New English Art Club
Henry Scott Tuke, Our Jack, portrait of Jack Rolling, c1886, oil on canvas, 51 x 32 cm, The Tuke Collection, Winchester, UK
Laura Knight, The Beach, 1909, oil on canvas, 127 x 152 cm, Tyne & Wear Museum, Newcastle, UK
The Beach brings together studies made at Staithes and at Newlyn. The children have, as Elizabeth Knowles comments in “Laura Knight in the Open Air”, been taken ‘out from a dim cottage interior into the brilliant light’ and the North Yorkshire coast re-located, like Laura, to southern climes. Laura said herself “in it I painted Staithes rather than Newlyn”
Harold Knight, In the Spring, 1908, oil on canvas, 132 x 158 cm, Tyne & Wear Museum, Newcastle, UK
Harold’s artistic achievements have never been fully explored or evaluated in depth, despite his being a highly accomplished painter, and a great portrait artist. Nor has Harold Knight been treated fairly in his own right, too often being represented as withdrawn and repressed, existing in the shadow of his flamboyant wife, a muted background against which Laura performed her vibrant excesses. Yet those who met and knew Harold considered him to be a quiet, sober, mild-mannered man. He was a good conversationalist, well informed, not just about art but about national and international affairs, displaying a lot of common sense, pragmatic and highly respected both as a man and as a painter. Laura herself was to say in later life that Harold gave her the stability and discipline she needed.
Laura Knight, Cheyne Walk, 1908, oil on canvas, 48 x 58 cm, Art Gallery, Leeds, UK
At the end of 1908 Laura was elected Associate of the Old Watercolour Society and in the new year travelled to London to receive her diploma, staying overnight with old Nottingham friends, Ernest Gillick, who had been a fellow student at the Art School, and his wife. Dedicated to the plein air philosophy, she could not resist prolonging her visit so that she might paint the recent snowfall in the street outside their house in Cheyne Walk. At once she went out to buy canvas, brushes, paints and galoshes and set up an easel on the pavement.She worked all that day and the next, numbed by the cold. The resulting picture was exhibited at the Academy in the summer of 1909.
Between 1909 and 1910, Laura worked on two large canvases
Laura Knight, Flying a Kite, 1910, oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm, Iziko Museums, Cape Town, South Africa
Laura Knight, The Boys, 1910, oil on canvas, 152 x 183 cm, Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
Alfred Munnings arrived in Newlyn in 1909, and soon caused all sorts of trouble.
Harold Knight, Alfred Munnings Reading, c1911, oil on canvas, Private Collection
This painting was found in 2009, hidden on the back of Laura Knight’s Carnaval, 1915.
There has been a great deal of speculation as to why she should have hidden it. She liked Munnings for his extrovert behaviour, so much like her own. It is possible that she wanted to remove the canvas from Harold’s studio, since he had become irritated by the newcomer.
Shortly after Munnings had established himself in Newlyn, Florence Carter-Wood arrived. She was the sister of Joey, who lived there, although he was not an artist. Florence was beautiful and immediately sought after as a model.
Left, Harold Knight, Florence Carter-Wood, 1910, oil on canvas, Private Collection, and right, Laura Knight, A Girl Reading, probably Florence Carter-Wood, 1910, watercolour, 61 x 51 cm, Private Collection
Harold Knight, Afternoon Tea, c1910, oil on canvas, 193 x 152 cm, Private Collection
The scene is the sitting room in Sandy Cove, the house owned by another artist, Garnett Wolsey, who is present as the butler. Florence is on the left and Laura, dressed in blue, is in the centre.
Alfred Munnings, Morning Ride, oil on canvas, 51 x 62 cm, Private Collection
Munnings became infatuated with her, although they could not have been more different. He was the son of a Suffolk miller, she was from a wealthy brewing family. He behaved outrageously, she was naïve, conventional and innocent. They were married in 1912, and Florence attempted suicide on her wedding night, by taking poison. She was successful in her second attempt two years later.
In her autobiography, Laura simply states that “a much loved member of our community has been taken from us”, but Munnings does not refer to his first wife at any point in his own autobiography.
Briefly, back to Laura:
Laura Knight, Self Portrait, with model, 1913, oil on canvas, 152 x 128 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK
The model is Ella Naper, an artist friend of Laura., and the painting is a bold statement about the ability of women to paint hitherto taboo subjects.
Two portraits of Dolly Henry, a model from London, whom Laura admired for her vitality, shrewdness, and a hint of violent temper. She was the girl friend of John Currie, a painter.
Left, Laura Knight, Rose and Gold, 1914, oil on canvas, 61 x51 cm, Private Collection, and right, Laura Knight, Marshmallows, 1914, oil on canvas, Private Collection
John Currie, Self Portrait, 1905, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, UK
Currie was a member of the Slade Art Group, and his friends included Mark Gertler and C R W Nevinson. He met Dolly when she was seventeen, fell in love and left his wife in 1911.
John Currie, The Supper, 1912-1914, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, UK
The detail shows John & Dolly kissing.
Left, John Currie, Head of a Girl, 1913, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, UK, and right, John Currie, The Witch, 1913, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent, UK
On 8 October, 1914, Currie shot Dolly, and then killed himself.
Not everyone in Newlyn was surprised. Augustus John said “We all got sick of her. She was an attractive girl, or used to be when I new her first, but she seems to habve deteriorated into a deceitful little bitch”.
The Knights blamed themselves, since Harold, misjudging Dolly’s claims that Currie would harm her, had given him her address in London.
Left, Laura Knight, Bathing, c1912, oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm, Private Collection, and right, Laura Knight, The Cornish Coast,1917, oil on canvas, 65 x 76 cm, National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff, UK
Left,Laura Knight, The Green Sea, Lamorna, oil on canvas, 61 x 76 cm, Private Collection, and right Laura Knight, A Dark Pool, oil on canvas, 46 x 46 cm, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Laura Knight, Logan’s Rock, c1916, oil on canvas, 67 x 70 cm, Private Collection
The Knights moved to London in 1918, but often returned to Newlyn. Harold died there in 1961,
BT, Meeting No22, 7 August, 2018