Thursday, July 11, 2013

Laura Knight

Dame Laura Johnson Knight
Dame Laura Johnson Knight was a popular British artist known for her paintings of dancers, gypsies and circus performers, her wartime reportage, and her iconic painting of the Nuremburg Trials (images above, second from bottom), which she attended. Knight also painted landscapes and wonderfully incisive portraits.

Knight, born Laura Johnson, had a mother whose own artistic aspirations were frustrated, but who enrolled Laura in art school at 13. Laura married artist Harold Knight and they shared studio space and a passion for painting.

Looking back through her work, which is best done on the BBC’s Your Paintings website (hover over the upper right of the images for links to enlarge), it seems what she most enjoyed was painting people, mostly women, working or otherwise focused and engaged in some activity.

Knight’s own portrayal of herself working, a self portrait in which we see her from that back, along with her model and her in-progress painting of the model (images above, bottom), was labeled “vulgar” and “regrettable” by some critics. Knight was often dismissed by critics through her career for being too light, too cheerful, too direct, etc. — though I think much can be attributed to the fact that she was a woman and a realist, not a modernist.

She gained recognition in her time, however, and was the first woman elected to full membership in the Royal Academy of Arts since its establishment in 1768.

A new exhibition of Knight’s work, including the notorious self portrait, opens today at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and runs until 13 October 2013.

Unfortunately the NPG doesn’t have much of a preview of the exhibition on their website, but there are reviews of the show on the Guardian and the Telegraph.

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