Laura Knight worked as a professional artist without a break from the age of fourteen until almost the end of her life. She was the first woman in over a century to be accepted as a full member of the Royal Academy and was made a Dame in 1929, having risen to the top of her profession and attained a status equal to the most successful male artists of the time. Knight became famous for her backstage depictions of actors and particularly the dancers at the Ballet Russes in the 1920s and 1930s. As well as painting her friends and undertaking commissions for wealthy clients, she was particularly drawn to marginal social groups, making portraits of gypsies (with whom she lived), circus performers (with whom she toured), and, in 1926, studies of black patients at the segregated Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. During the second world war, when she was in her late sixties, she produced a remarkable group of portraits of female members of the auxiliary air force and munitions workers for the War Artists Advisory Board, and later travelled to Nuremberg to depict the war crimes trials.
During the course of an extraordinarily productive career that spanned over seventy years, Knight's work reflected her commitment to depicting modern life and her fascination with the human figure - as asserted in her iconic Self with Nude (1913). She successfully negotiated the professional art world at a time when other women artists struggled for recognition and sought to control her public image via two volumes of autobiography. This book, like the exhibition it accompanies, demonstrates Knight's impressive skills as a painter and draughtsman, her courage in tackling complex compositions and challenging subjects, and her compassionate approach to the sitters with whom she worked. Taken together, the selection of portraits also presents a distinctive picture of twentieth-century Britain.
Publisher: National Portrait Gallery Publications