Laura Knight, the Dame of British art

Portraits by British artist Laura Knight (1877 –1970), Dame Laura Knight I should say, are presented at the National Portrait Gallery. The small show of only 30 portraits or so left me hungry for more.

I believe her success as a woman artist, deep expressiveness in her portraits and her willingness to immerse in other environments set her apart. Her self-portrait, which opens the exhibition, firmly establishes her as a female painter in her own rights. She depicts herself in an extraordinary red-toned painting painting a female nude, which at the time was not allowed to women painters. In 1936, she became the first Royal Academician woman. I felt she was keen to promote women in the arts; for instance, painting ballet performers.

I find portraits generally boring but Laura Knight’s ability to immerse into different worlds allowed her to paint sitters different from the typical portrait clientele. She painted many beautiful women (some are exhibited). But her paintings also absorb the atmosphere of gypsies, ballet dancers, and black patients at a hospital in Maryland, which she managed to do by living or spending time with them. In the latter series, eyes are deeply expressive like those of black nurse, Pearl Johnson, also showing her mastery of pastels. Laura Knight is at the NPG until October 13th.


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