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.

KnightCrummer

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:

KnightHFinney

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.

KnightHLawler

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.

KnightHBaer

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!

KnightDarkyBaby

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

KnightPicanniny

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.

KnightMadonna

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

A collection of paintings by other artists:

CaracciSlaveWoman

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

JohnJamaican

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

VeroneseMoorish

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

RembrandtAfricans

Rembrandt van Rejn, Two Young Africans

JanssensSybil

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

LiotardJeuneFemme

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

And finally:

SoyerNegroChildren

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