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Wednesday’s Woman … Dame Laura Knight

April 9, 2014

Somehow or other I have overlooked this artist. I came across her quite by accident during our recent ‘collections  project’.  We have been working on the project now for several years to update the collections and make space for new stock. The item I saw was indeed had not been borrowed of late and not ‘meaningfully’ catalogued (not easily located on the catalogue)  I wonder if it does deserve a place in our Special Collection where it will be catalogued fully.  She certainly did make her mark and championed not just women artists but women workers in general.  

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) was an English artist using all mediums not only in the figurative and realist tradition but she also welcomed the English Impressionism.  I have learned that she was in her long career among the most successful and popular painters in Britain. In 1929 she made a Dame and a little later became the first woman elected to the Royal Academy since its formation in 1768.

In 1965 Laura Knight was the first woman to to have an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Although she was known for painting in the world of theatre and ballet in London she became better known for being a war artist during the Second World War.  She was interested and inspired by marginalised communities; such as Gypsies and circus performers. It was her success, I understand, in the male-dominated British art establishment that paved the  way for greater status and recognition for women artists.

I did find a little series of books in Special Collections; not about Laura Knight in particular but about war artists in general although the images are poor quality; Laura did write the introduction to the volume about Women.

She reminds us that women who were employed in the munition factories and those who were enlisted in the fighting forces were not prepared for the ‘grim’ circumstances.  Saying that ‘ Not so very long ago to ride a bicycle in bloomers was not quite genteel. Women’s pleasure should be dusting the china and playing a few tunes on the piano. While their sisters, often in degrading conditions, slaved in menial tasks. Female mentality was not considered worthy of responsible business duties; and a professional life was almost closed to women.  Opportunities of serious study was rare, from time to time certain forceful characters ignored public opinion, giving their wits a wider field. They and the women of the last war prepared the way for girls now found in every walk of life’.  

She went on to tell some stories,  one I liked of the engineering shop.  Where you see girls with their curls bound in nets to protect them for the machinery.  Many girls sat at benches filing and tooling delicate pieces of steel with exceptional skill. Overhead, a woman masters a huge crane. Nearby a ‘young thing’ bent over a lathe,  sparks fly out as it whirls around.  She concentrates intently as the metal she grinds must be true to two-tenths of one thousandth part of an inch.  This particular operation is the most difficult in the making of anti-aircraft gun and until then could only be done by a man with eight or nine years of experience in the engineering shop.  

She went on the commend women who have mastered abstruse sciences of radio-location and meteorology, who were not just responsible for the safety of the local community but for lives of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen.

I am sorry I missed this woman I look forward to seeing some her paintings in the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy soon  



One Comment leave one →
  1. Laura Bloomsbury permalink
    April 9, 2014 8:38 am

    a great feature on a to unkown, and a long forgotten artist that deservedly should be remembered – very interesting

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