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

Belles de Jour


“Belles de Jour”

An exhibition at the Musée Sainte-Croix, Poitiers, visited on 9 September, 2016

The exhibition featured works by female artists and those with a female model, from the collections in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nantes.

There were about seventy works displayed, of which this is a selection.

The artists are in alphabetical order.


Jacques-Émile Blanche, La comtesse Bibesco Bassaraba de Brancovan, 1912, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Blanche was a pupil of Henri Gervex, and supported by Henri Fantin-Latour and Édouard Manet.
The Comtesse de Brancovan was a poet and socialite, known for her often cruel humour. Here, she is wearing mourning dress following the death of her mother in law.


Jacques Emile Blanche, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, 1895, oil on canvas, 93 x 74 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK

This was not in the exhibition, but appeared in the earlier talk on Aubrey Beardsley.


Henri Boutet, Femme se promenant sur un pont, 1883, etching, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Known as “le maître du corset”, Boutet published, in 1902, “Les Modes Féminines du XIXe Siècle”, a collection of one hundred etchings etchings showing the development of women’s fashion throughout the nineteenth century


Romaine Brooks, Gabriele d’Annunzio, le poéte en exil, 1912, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

It was d’Annunzio who gave Romaine Brooks the nickname Cinerina, with reference to her ash coloured palette.


Romaine Brooks, Vénus triste, 1916-1917, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Purporting to follow the tradition of the reclining Venus, the painting reflects the fascination of Brooks for her model and lover, the dancer Ida Rubenstein


Romaine Brooks, Azalées Blanches, 1910, oil on canvas, 151 x 272 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA

This painting was not in the exhibition. The subject is the same as Vénus triste, but the model is anonymous.


Jules Chéret, La femme à l’ombrelle rouge, oil on wood, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes

Chéret was the inventor of the modern colour poster, having founded his printing works in 1866.
He was a friend of Rodin and Monet.


Jules Chéret, La diaphane. Poudre de riz. Sarah Bernhard, 1898, Poster

Not in the exhibition, but included as a representation of his work.


Kees van Dongen, Passe-temps honnète, c1920, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes

van Dongen painted much of his early work in the red light district of Rotterdam.
He exhibited with the Fauves in 1905, and collaborated with the expressionist group Die Brücke.


Henri-Pierre Hippolyte Dubois, Portrait de la marquise de Girard de Châteauvieux, 1877, oil on canvas, 178 x 239 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France


Valentine Gross-Hugo, Karsavina dans le “Spectre de la rose », 1912, wax on wood, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes


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

Gross was passionate about the ballet, and painted in wax to show the fluid movements of the dancers, after sketches made at the time.


Charles Guérin, La dame aux bracelets, 1922, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes


Hermann Göhler, Portrait de femme, 1902, oil on cardboard, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes


Wilhelm Hagborg, Portrait de femme å la robe noire (portrait de Mme Gerda Hagborg ?), c1890, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

Hagborg was a Swedish naturalist painter in the style of Breton, Bastien-Lepage and Friant. He was also known as a portrait painter, and the model here is probably his wife.


Tamara de Lempicka, Kizette en rose, 1927, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes

Lempicka was a pupil of André Lhote (see below), and often used her reluctant and much neglected daughter as a model.


Tamara de Lempicka, Kizette on the Balcony, 1927, oil on canvas

Not in the exhibition.


André Lhote, Femme assise, c 1925, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Although he appreciated the work of the cubists, Lhote always maintained a link with the classical style of portraiture


Sarah Lipska, Antoine et ses réves, c1934, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Antoine was a noted hairdresser of his day. Lipska also designed his apartment, including a glass coffin which he used as his bed.


Sarah Lipska, Buste de Colette, 1954, pink cement, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes


Maurice Marinot, Nu à l’atelier, 1905, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Marinot was associated with the Fauves, and is better known for his work in glass.


Jean Metzinger, Nu à la fenétre, s.d, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes

Metzinger became a painter after meeting Robert Delauny in Paris in 1903. His early involvement with cubism made him an influential artist and leading theorist of the movement.


Suzanne Valadon, Les Baigneuses, 1923, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nantes

Valadon began her career as a model, posing for Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, before becoming an established painter. She was the mother of Maurice Utrillo.


Félix Vallatton, Femme lisant, 1921, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

BT, Meeting No21, 24 July 2018