Winifred Knights (1899 - 1947)

Portrait study, circa 1919


SKU: 3123

Pencil on paper, 7 3/16 x 5 3/4 in. (18.2 x 14.5cm.)

(8 3/4 x 7 1/4 in. (22.2 x 18.5cm.) framed)


Height – 18.2cm x Width – 14.5cm

1 in stock


The Artists Family

This is likely to be a study for one of the figures in the Deluge,
Knights winner entry for the 1920 Rome Scholarship.   Her sketch books
of the period contain numerous studies based on quattrocento works of
art, particularly by Donatello and Verrocchio.

Candidates for the Rome Scholarship entered a two-stage competition, the criteria of which, according to the rules, were established to demonstrate a fair understanding of the problems to be dealt with in the execution of any painting, the main purpose of which is the permanent decoration of a wall surface, in relation to its architectural setting’. In June 1920, along with three other finalists (Leon Underwood, James Wilkie and Arthur Outlaw), Knights was selected to take part in the Final Competition, for which she had to produce a painting and a cartoon (measuring 6x5feet) within an 8-week time limit, on the set subject of The Deluge’. 

During the competition, Knights fell ill for a period of ten days, but her request for a time-extension was blocked by the other finalists. In spite of submitting her painting partly unfinished, and the fact that she was nine-years younger than her opponents, The British School at Rome’s Painting Faculty –  whose members included John Singer Sargent and Philip Wilson Steer –  unanimously awarded her the Scholarship.

The frequent citation of the Biblical Flood as a metaphor for the Great War is likely to have influenced Knights’ interpretation of the set-subject. Among the panic-stricken figures is Knights herself, her mother Mabel (cradling her infant son who died in 1915), Eileen Knights, Arnold Mason, Anna Fryer and Millicent Murby. Taking inspiration from James Thomson’s poem, The City of Dreadful Night’ (1874), Knights depicts a fleeing cleric as a symbol of the Church’s impotence during the war; his flight is in vain and he cannot lead the other protagonists to salvation; the ark has already departed.

The Deluge combines Italian Renaissance compositional devices (such as the frieze-like arrangement of figures within a shallow picture plane) , with the sideways dynamism characteristic of the Vorticist Group. When the picture was exhibited in 1921, it was precisely this synthesis of traditional and modern that was hailed by the critics. 

Modern British Art Gallery are continually seeking to improve the quality of the information on their website. We actively undertake to post new and more accurate information on our stable of artists.

We openly acknowledge the use of information from other sites including Wikipedia, and and other public domains. We are grateful for the use of this information and we openly invite any comments on how to improve the accuracy of what we have posted.


Winifred Knights
1899 - 1947

Winifred Knights was born in Streatham, London in 1899. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1915’17, 1918’20 and 1926’27) . In 1919 she jointly won the Slade Summer Composition Competition with A Scene in a Village Street with Mill-Hands Conversing. In 1920, she became the first woman to win the Scholarship in Decorative Painting awarded by the British School at Rome. She remained in Italy until December 1925, marrying fellow Rome Scholar Thomas Monnington (1902’1976) in April 1924. On her return to England, Knights received a commission to paint an altarpiece for the Milner Memorial Chapel in Canterbury. A major commission for the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, on which she had been working for five years, remained unconcluded at her early death, aged 47.
Throughout her life, Winifred Knights produced work through which she explored women’s autonomy. Presenting herself as the central protagonist, and selecting models from her inner circle, she rewrote and reinterpreted fairy tale and legend, biblical narrative and pagan mythology. She was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2016.