Laura Knight, “Darkies in Baltimore”

The title is that of a chapter heading in her autobiography, “Oil Paint & Grease Paint”, published in 1936.

In 1923 the Knights holidayed in the Tyrol. Laura destroyed all of her work from the holiday, as she she was not satisfied with it.

In Florence, on the way back to England, they met the eminent American cardiologist Le Roy Crummer and his wife and struck up a friendship with them.


Laura Knight, Portrait of Le Roy Crummer, 1925, charcoal,, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Le Roy Crummer, 1872 – 1934.
During World War 1, he was a captain in the Medical Corps stationed at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia, where he taught cardiology to medical officers. In 1919, he was named Professor of Medicine at the University of Nebraska, a position that he held until 1925. As his health began to deteriorate from heart disease, he moved to Los Angeles, where he led the quiet life of a scholar and collector of rare books illustrating the early history of medicine. In the decade between 1920 and 1930, he and his wife Myrtle assiduously travelled to Europe in search of books and manuscripts.
It was on one of these trips that he met the Knights.

On his return to America, Crummer talked to colleagues about Harold’s work. As a result, Harold was invited to the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to paint a series of portraits of the doctors in the hospital.
Off he went. Harold and Laura often parted for periods to paint in their own way.
Later, we shall see that Laura did the same when she followed the circus.

Three portraits painted by Harold during his stay in Baltimore:


Harold Knight, John Miller Turpin Finney, 1926, oil on canvas, 36 x 29 cm, John Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA

John Finney, 1863-1942, was a surgeon at John Hopkins. During World War I, he was sent to France as the commander of Base Hospital 18, the Johns Hopkins Hospital unit. Shortly after arriving, he was named the chief surgical consultant to the American Expeditionary Force. After his tour in France, Finney was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal from the United States, the Commandeur de l’ Ordre de la Couronne from Belgium, and the Officier de la Legion d’Honneur from France.


Harold Knight, Elsie Mildred Lawler, 1927, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm, John Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA

Born in Whitby, Ontario, she attended the University of Toronto, before entering The Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing in 1896. In 1910, she became superintendent of nurses and of the school of nursing at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, a position she held for more than thirty years. Her tenure at Johns Hopkins was characterised by steady advances in the standards of nursing education. She adapted the nursing curriculum to accommodate the hospital’s expansion, which more than tripled in size, adding new clinics and institutes for specialised branches of medicine.


Harold Knight, William Stevenson Baer, 1927, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm, John Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA

William Baer, 1872-1931, was the founding director of orthopaedics at Johns Hopkins.
During World War I, Baer first served with the Johns Hopkins Base Hospital 18 and later as the orthopaedic consultant to General Pershing. While treating injured soldiers in France, Baer noted that wounds infested by maggots on the battlefield healed most rapidly. Recognising the importance of maggots in the debridement of wounds, he became a longtime proponent of their use in his surgical practice.
Baer had two passions: children and animals. He would keep wealthy patients waiting in his private consulting rooms, while he went out to tend to an injured dog.

Harold became more and more in demand, and one commission led to another. He was able to ask Laura to join him, and Baltimore they were the guests of Baer and his wife. He made an enormous impression on Laura, who admired him greatly.

Harold’s commissions took up a good deal of his time, and so, through Baer, Laura gained access to the segregated children’s and maternity wards at the hospital. She preferred sleeping babies, because they didn’t move!


Laura Knight, The Darky Baby, c1927

Laura Knight, Juanita, 1927

At first, the women in the maternity wards were suspicious of Laura, thinking that she wanted to caricaturize them, but were won over by her friendliness. She loved children.

Left, Laura Knight, Portrait of a Young Woman, c1927, and right, Laura Knight, Chloë, c1927


Laura Knight, The Piccaninny, 1927

In the hospital, Laura met Pearl Johnson, a nurse: they became friends. Pearl and her sister Ireen took Laura to concerts and lectures to observe what was an early phase of the Civil Rights movement.

Laura was surprised that she could not go out and discover a thriving African culture in the streets and the markets, not understanding that the people were several generations away from their roots. Pearl brought her models to pose for her.


Laura Knight, Madonna of the Cotton Fields or Mighty Like a Rose, c1927

A collection of paintings by other artists:


Annibale Carracci, attrib, Portrait of an African Slave Woman, ca. 1580s, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD


Augustus John, A West Indian Girl, c1940, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, UK


Paolo Veronese, School of, Portrait of a Moorish Woman, c1550s, oil on canvas on panel 38 x 25 cm


Rembrandt van Rejn, Two Young Africans


Abraham Janssens, Attrib; The Sibyl Agrippina, c1600, oil on canvas, 80 x 107 cm, Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Germany


Jean-Etienne Liotard, Portrait d’une jeune femme, late 19th Cent, pastel, 41 x 32 cm, Art Museum, St Louis, MO, USA

And finally:


Emma Soyer, Two Negro Children with a Book, 1831, Private Collection

The portrait was featured in the BBC TV programme “Fake of Fortune?”, on 2 September, 2018.

BT, Meeting No25, 18 September, 2018


Laura Knight, The Ballet

The Ballets Russes, under the direction of Diaghilev, first performed in London in 1911, and Valentine Gross-Hugo painted several scenes from their productions.

These two appeared in the earlier talk on the exhibition “Belles de Jour“:

Left: Valentine Gross-Hugo, Karsavina dans le “Spectre de la rose », 1912, wax on wood, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes
and right:
Valentine Gross-Hugo, Karsavina et Nijinsky dans le “Spectre de la rose”, 1912, wax on wood, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

The paintings are in wax on wood, a supple technique, enabling the artist to represent the gentle, light movements of the dancers.

At a later date, Laura also painted Karsavina:


Laura Knight, Karsavina in ”The Firebird”, date?, oil on canvas, Private Collection

When they returned to London from Cornwall after the war, Harold and Laura became passionately fond of the ballet and went to performances almost every night.

When the Ballets Russes performed in London, it was often in set pieces at a variety theatre such as the Colisseum, alongside such acts as the male impersonator, Vesta Tilley or the comedian, Harry Tate.

Initially, Laura had to sketch from the stalls.


Laura Knight Carnival, 1916, oil on canvas, 76 x 102 cm, Private Collection

This was painted during an earlier visit to London.
Laura destroyed most of her early ballet paintings, and this is a rare example.
Centre stage are Tchernicheva & Idjikawski, while Enrico Cecchetti, the great dancer and dancing teacher of the era is probably at the left. By the time the Knights met him he was getting old, having been born in 1850, and appeared largely in mime parts. He and is wife became friends of the Knights, and visited them often in Soho, where Giuseppina cooked for them.

The painting was earlier shown in the earlier talk on Laura Knight in Newlyn.


Laura Knight, Carnival, 1920, oil on canvas, 102 x 132 cm, City Galleries, Manchester, UK

The breakthrough in Laura’s paintings of the ballet came when her frame maker, Mr Steer, who seemed to know everybody, obtained permission from Diaghilev himself for her to paint and sketch back stage.

This shows the Ballet Russes before the rise of the curtain for a performance of Carnival at Drury Lane in 1920, showing from left to right Diaghilev in top hat; Massine, red coat; Karsavina tying her shoe; Idzikowski, as Harlequin; Sokolova, pointing foot, as Papillon; Woizikowski, in striped tights as Floreston; Cecchetti, in buff coat and green gloves as Pantaloon; Tchernicheva, in blue skirt, as Chiarina

There was a suggestion at the time that the work was similar to Manet’ painting, Le Ballet espagnol of 1862, in which he depicted the Spanish company who were dancing at that time at the Hippodrome in Paris. Among them are Lola de Valence, seated, and, standing, the famous dancer Mariano Camprubi.


Edouard Manet, Le Ballet espagnol, 1862, oil on canvas, 61 x 91 cm, Philips Collection, Washington, DC, USA


Laura Knight, Behind the scenes in the coulisses, 1920, oil on canvas, 64 x 56 cm, Art Gallery, Falmouth, UK

Laura lent the dresser her ubiquitous red jacket, to add a touch of colour to the painting

Shown at the earlier talk on Falmouth Art Gallery


Laura Knight, Portrait of the Ballerina, Lydia Lopokova, date?, oil on canvas, Private Collection

Lydia Lopokova was the first individual dancer to sit for Laura. Althogh very formal in the beginning, she warmed to Laura’s personality, and became friendly. She confided that, although a principal dancer, she was too small and the wrong shape for the principal rôles. She married the economist Maynard Keynes instead. He was homosexual and a member of the Bloomsbury Group, but in spite of all that, the marriage was a happy one. Keynes’ lover Duncan Grant was best man at the wedding.

Harold also painted her.


Harold Knight, Lydia Lopokova, date?, oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, Private Collection

Left:  Laura Knight, Dressing Room No3, 1924, 64 x 76 cm, Atkinson Art Museum, Stockport, UK
and right: Laura Knight, Ballerinas at the Makeup Table, 1957, oil on canvas, 91 x 61 cm, Private collection

The two works were painted more than thirty years apart, showing Laura’ enduring passion for the stage.

One day Laura more or less accidentally found her way into the dressing rooms and became fascinated. After a while Lopokova was put out and sent a message reminding her that she should be painting on stage.


Laura Knight, The Ballet Girl and the Dressmaker, 1930, oil on canvas, 96 x 122 cm, Private Collection

The model was a dancer named Barbara Bonnar; ‘…a vital and sparkling young creature, [who] was rehearsing for a show at the time and many of the sittings had to take place in the early morning before she went to the theatre.’ A detailed figure drawing for the painting is in the collection of Nottingham City Art Gallery. The artist’s own dressmaker, Miss Fergusson, posed for the woman making the alterations to the dress; ‘her hands and type were perfect.’ The picture was originally intended to hang in the office of the new headquarters of the H Earl Hoover business in Chicago but Hoover was so delighted with it that he decided to hang it in pride of place in his home.


Laura Knight, Ballet, 1936, oil on canvas, 65 x 76 cm, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK

Inevitably, she was from time to time compared to Degas


Edgar Degas, Danseuses, 1884, pastel on paper, 75 x 73 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Laura worked in other media for her ballet work. These two aquatints show the development of an idea:

Left: Laura Knight, The Three Graces, 1926, aquatint
and right: Laura Knight, Three Graces of the Ballet, 1927, aquatint

Two more dressing room scenes, painted at different periods. In spite of her passion for the genre, she did not just depict the ballet, and her output was immense and varied

Left: Laura Knight, The Ballet Shoe, oil on canvas, 1932, 43 x 38 cm, Museums and Art Galleries, Brighton and Hove, UK
and right: Laura Knight, A Dressing Room at Drury Lane, 1952, oil on canvas

Although this talk has been about the ballet, Laura painted scenes of many different theatrical production, both on stage and off.

Just one example of her work:


Laura Knight, The Theatre Wardrobe, date?, oil on canvas, 97 x 66 cm, Private Collection

BT, Meeting No24, 4 September, 2018

Laura Knight, WW1 1914-18


Laura Knight, Spring, 1916-1920, oil on canvas, 182 x 153, Tate Gallery, London, UK

Laura needed to paint a picture which symbolised hope at a time when there seemed little prospect of better times: hence the rainbow. She reworked it over several years.

The models are Charles Naper, and his wife Ella, whom we last saw without her clothes.


Laura Knight, Self Portrait with Model, 1913, oil on canvas, 152 x 128 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK

As far as I know, there are no paintings of Charles without his clothes, but he also painted his wife, as well as specialising in Cornish Landscapes


Charles Naper, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, pencil


Photograph of Charles Naper, Laura Knight, Cecily & Alfred Sidgwick, and Harold Knight in August 1914

The photograph was taken at the time of the outbreak of the war. Laura rarely looks at the camera. I have the feeling that it was not intentional, but that she always seemed to find something else to do at the time.

The detail from Spring shows a single magpie. Laura’s friend Gertrude Harvey was Cornish, and superstitious. She tried to get Laura to paint out the unlucky magpie, without success.

Gertrude Harvey was the wife of Harold Harvey, who painted the portrait of Dorothea Sharp, the subject of an earlier presentation


Harold Harvey, Portrait of Dorothea Sharp

He also painted his superstitious wife, who evidently had no objection to a single parrot.


Harold Harvey, Gertrude Harvey with a Parrot in the Artist’s House, oil on canvas, 46 x 48 cm, Private Collection

During the war Harold Knight’s principles led him to be a conscientious objector, which earned him the rebuke of many of his colleagues and former friends, and put a strain on his physical and mental health, as he was required to work as a farm labourer. He was 40 at the outbreak of war. He produced a number of sensitive scenes of women in interiors during this period, in part because artists were forbidden to produce views of the Cornish coastline for security reasons during the First World War, but perhaps also to reduce the stress of his life at the time.

Left, Harold Knight, Knitting, 1915, oil on canvas, 46 x 46 cm, Private Collection, and right, Harold Knight, The Green Book, c.1915, oil on canvas, 51 x 46 cm, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, UK

Laura, on the other hand, was as busy and adventurous as ever


Laura Knight, At the Edge of the Cliff, 1916, oil on canvas, 58 x 71 cm, Private Collection

She cared little for the restrictions, and continued to paint coastal scenes. Eventually she had to stop, and afterwards always painted from a high viewpoint and with no horizon, so that she could not be accused of being a spy.
The model is Marjorie Taylor, the sixteen year old daughter of a local coal merchant.

In November 1916, the wealthy Canadian newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook founded the Canadian War Memorials Fund. The Fund hired more than 116 artists in Canada and Great Britain to paint over 900 scenes of Canada at war. Some artists were sent to the front lines in France and Belgium to sketch Canadians in battle. Back in their studios in London, England, they completed larger paintings in oils. Other artists painted scenes of the home front in Canada

Future members of Canada’s celebrated Group of Seven also found new inspiration as war artists, painting the landscape of the western front. After the war, they depicted Canadian wilderness scenes in which damage caused by forest fires and the harsh climate was a prominent feature. The image of the destroyed, but still upright, tree appears in many of their compositions.

Here is one example:


Frederick Varley, German Prisoners, c1918, oil on canvas, Canadian War Museum, Ottowa, Canada

Anna Airy, 1882-1964, was one of the first women officially commissioned as a war artist and was recognised as one of the leading women artists of her generation.


Anna Airy, Cookhouse, Witley Camp, 1918, oil on canvas, Canadian War Museum, Ottowa, Canada

Laura also received a commission to paint at Witley Camp, near Aldershot. Her brief, strange though it may seem, was to paint Canadian soldiers bathing in the river. She couldn’t find any, but met Joe Shears, the Imperial Forces bantam weight champion. He was kind, cheerful and popular with everyone. She decided to paint a picture of a boxing match instead.


Laura Knight, Boxing Match, 1916, oil on canvas, Canadian War Museum, Ottowan Canada

The painting is more than three metres wide, and features Joe on the left in his black shorts and red sash.

These two sketches were probably drawn at Witley


…as were these black and which illustrations, taken from her first autobiography, “Oil Paint & Grease Paint”, published in 1936.

Laura was a woman, commissioned to paint a subject unfamiliar to her. Some years earlier, George Bellows, one of the Ash Can School of artists in New York, had painted a more brutal depiction of a boxing match…


George Bellows, Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909, oil on canvas, 92 x 123 cm, Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, USA

Two boxers fighting in the private athletic club situated across from his studio. Bellows used quick strokes to create a blurred image, simulating the two fighters in motion. He also chose a low point of view to put the viewer among the crowd watching the fight. Participants in the boxing ring were usually members of the club, but occasionally outsiders would fight with temporary memberships. These fighters were known as “stags”.

BT, Meeting No 23, 21 August 2018

Laura Knight, Newlyn

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.

Calm returned.

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

Laura Knight, Staithes


Laura’s Studio at Staithes, 1898

Laura and Harold needed a place that would offer the inspiration they had failed to find in Skegness. The answer came from Thomas Barratt, a teacher at the Nottingham Schoool of Art, who said: ‘Go to Staithes … there is no place so splendid for an artist in the whole of England. I have a cottage there I go to every summer. Harold and you will want to spend all your time painting’. And so in the late summer of 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, to Staithes they all went.

When the railway came to Staithes in 1883 some three hundred fishermen were working out of the port, with the Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway running three trains a week from the station at the bank top to transport the catch to markets nationwide. Yet the community below maintained its self-contained isolation. They considered even those who lived and worked “up top” as foreigners. Even so, for all its apartness, Staithes could not ignore the trickle of outsiders who came to the village: painters attracted by its picturesque character, its dramatic weather, strong light and long days. Seeking out remote, rural and coastal places, they were part of the new movement that was transforming the art-world at home and abroad. They brought with them modernity and a whiff of revolution to this remote place.

Left: Mark Senior, Runswick Bay, c1883, oil on canvas, 51 x 36 cm, Private Collection
Top right: Frederick Jackson, In the Garden, 1886, oil on canvas
Bottom right: Gilbert Foster, Wild Flowers in Yorkshire, before 1906, oil on canvas

By 1880 three influential artists were working in the Staithes-Whitby area: Gilbert Foster, Frederick Jackson and Mark Senior.
They established what was to be a loosely associated colony of painters resident there for over 30 years and known as the “Staithes Group”. Harold and Laura were associated with Staithes for over ten years (from their first visit in 1897 to their removal to Newlyn in 1907) and it was at Staithes that both of them threw off the restraints of academic art and provincial attitudes. As Laura affirmed, Staithes was for her a ‘tremendous influence on work, life and power of endurance’.
She found herself as an artist at Staithes.


Laura and Harold married in 1903; he was 29, she 26. They had been companions since she entered Nottingham School of Art when Laura was 13. Harold died in 1961 at the age of 87, after 58 years of marriage.
In this photograph Harold, a self-effacing man, is standing at the back.

He became a well known artist, specialising in portraits


Harold Knight, Arthur Balfour, 1st Baron Riverdale, 1936, oil on canvas, 76 x 63 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK

He painted Laura, on several occassions. Here, along with her portrait of her sister, is the first, painted shortly before her fifteenth birthday


Harold Knight, Laura Johnson, 1892, oil on canvas, Private Collection


Laura Knight, Sis, 1896, oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm, Private Collection.


Laura Knight, Packing Fish on the Quay at Staithes, c1899, oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm, Private Collection


Laura Knight, Cobles at Runswick, 1897-1907, oil on board, 39 x 29 cm, Brockfield Hall, nr York, UK



Laura Knight, A mother and child in a kitchen, 1905-1908, oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm, Private Collection

This appears to have been painted between Laura and Harold Knight’s first trip to the Laren community in the Netherlands, in 1905, and their leaving Yorkshire to move to Cornwall in 1908. After their wedding in 1903, the Knights generally stayed with a Mrs Bowman when returning to the Staithes area in Yorkshire and in between visits to Laren. She lived in nearby Roxby, and the couple would walk over the fields every day down to Staithes, where they had their studios. Laura painted several oils similar in style to A mother and child in a kitchen, using Mrs Bowman’s cottage interior as a background. A similar work, Dressing the Children, below, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1906, Both show some Dutch influence, gained from the Knight’s trips to Laren. Laura painted several works while in Staithes, subjects ranging from old women in interiors performing simple household tasks such as knitting, peeling potatoes and plucking geese, to children playing on the beach. Laura paid her models in pennies, which small sum she could hardly afford.


Laura Knight, Dressing the Children, 1906, oil on canvas, 102 x 140 cm, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, UK


Laura Knight, The Girl & the Letter, 1906, oil on canvas, 102 x 127 cm, Harris Museums and Art Gallery, Preston, UK

Left: Laura Knight, The Elder Sister, c1907, oil on canvas, 33 x 25 cm, Touchstones, Rochdale, UK
Right: Laura Knight, The Rocking Chair, c1906-1907

The same scene and the same models, painted in different styles.

Left: Laura Knight, The Fishing Fleet, 1900, oil on canvas, 123 x 84 cm, Art Gallery, Bolton, UK
Right: Laura Knight, Fisherfolk Baiting Lines on the Cobbles, Staithes, date?, 45 x 54 cm, Private Collection


Laura Knight, On the Quayside, watercolour, Private Collection

Left: Harold Knight, The Storm, c1901, oil on canvas, 91 x 121 cm, Wycombe Museum, High Wycombe, UK
Right: Harold Knight, Grief, c1901, oil on canvas, Private Collection

The painting on the right is of a girl who was to marry Billy Uthank. He, his father and his brother were all drowned on the same day, a few days before the wedding.

The Knights had had enough of the raw pain of the place and, now that the winter set in, missed the companionship of other artists that they had enjoyed at Laren. Harold in particular was emotionally drained, tired of watching the never-ending tragedy of life on the Yorkshire coast. Yet Laura was reluctant to leave for she owed so much to the place. Staithes had offered her emotional and professional nourishment and throughout her life she would think back to her time in that ‘wildified place’ as marking a rite of passage. It was there, she says that ‘I … found my own way of seeing and trying to speak of it in pencil and colour, instead of copying other people, particularly Harold.’

The time had come to move on. So, they burned their unwanted canvases and looked south and west with the promise of warmer climes, longer days and brighter skies of Cornwall.


Laura Knight, Staithes, Yorkshire, 1900, oil on canvas

BT, Meeting No21, 24 July, 2018






Laura Knight: Introduction

This is an introduction to the work of Laura Knight, 1877-1970
Later talks will be devoted to various aspects of her art and periods of her life.
These are set out below, each with a single example of her work.

Early life


Laura Knight, Sis, 1896, oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm, Private Collection.



Laura Knight, Packing Fish on the Quay at Staithes, c1899, oil canvas, 61 x 52 cm, Private Collection



Photograph of Laura & Harold Knight, date unknown

Newlyn & Lamorna


Laura Knight, Boys Bathing, Newlyn Quay, 1910, oil on canvas, 70 x 93 cm, private Collection

The Circus


Laura Knight, Circus Matinee, 1938, Pannett Art Gallery, Whitby, UK

The Ballet


Laura Knight, Behind the Scenes in the Coulisses, 1920-25, oil on panel, 63 x 57 cm, Art Gallery, Falmouth, UK



Laura Knight, The Gypsy, c 1939, oil on canvas, 61x 41 cm, Tate gallery, London, UK



Laura Knight, Pearl Johnson, 1926-27, oil on canvas

World War II


Laura Knight, Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring, 1943, oil on canvas, 86 x 100 cm, Imperial War Museum, London, UK

Later Work


Laura Knight, The Cruel Sea, 1967, oil on canvas, 76 x 64 cm, Museum & Art Gallery, Bolton, UK


BT, Meeting No 20, 10 July 2018