Dame Laura Knight

A Cornish connection has revealed itself in the March 2022 edition of NZ House & Garden. Turn to page 22 and you will find the “Cushion Gallery” Look closely at number 7, The cushion is titled “The Bathing Pool” and is reproduced from a portrait painted by Dame Laura Knight from the collection at Auckland Art Gallery. Along with the cushion, a scarf and limited-edition print is also available.

The connection to Cornwall goes back to 1907 when Laura and her husband Harold moved to Cornwall, at first taking lodgings in Newlyn, before moving to the nearby village of Lamorna. There, alongside Lamorna Birch and Alfred Munnings, they became central figures in the artists’ colony known as the Newlyn School. By March 1908 both had work exhibited at the Newlyn Art Gallery and Harold Knight was an established professional portrait painter, while Laura Knight was still developing her art. Around Newlyn the Knights found themselves among a group of sociable and energetic artists, which appears to have allowed the more vivid and dynamic aspects of Laura's personality to come to the fore.

Laura Knight spent the summer of 1908 working on the beaches at Newlyn making studies for her large painting of children in bright sunlight. The Beach was shown at the Royal Academy in 1909, and was considered a great success, showing Laura painting in a more Impressionist style than she had displayed previously. About this time, she began painting compositions of women in the open air, in the plein-air manner, often on the rocks or cliff-tops around Lamorna. Knight would sometimes use models from London who were prepared to pose nude. Although there was some resentment locally about this, the landowner, Colonel Paynter of Boskenna, was fully supportive and allowed Knight and the other artists a free rein. Daughters of the Sun, which showed several women, some naked, sitting by a coastal inlet was completed in 1911 and well received when shown at the Royal Academy, but was subsequently damaged and destroyed. In recent years examples of Knight's plein-air compositions from Cornwall have attracted high prices at auction.

During WW1, Harold Knight was a conscientious objector and was made to work on the land Afterwards, in 1919, the couple decided to leave Cornwall, moving to London. Laura kept her Lamorna studio for some years and continued to return to Cornwall, where she felt she had spent her happiest times.

She was made a Dame in 1929 for her services to art and in 1936 became the first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy. In 1961, Harold Knight died, the couple had been married for fifty-eight years. Dame Laura Knight died on 7 July 1970 aged 92.

Judy Wright - February 2022