At the start of her art training Knights considered a career as an illustrator. Presenting herself as the central protagonist, and selecting models from her inner circle, she was greatly drawn to themes showing female independence, strength and courage, such as Rossetti’s Goblin Market. The conflict between female self-empowerment and subjugation was a recurrent theme, explored through women’s relationship to the natural world, to working communities, to marriage, motherhood and death.
Winifred Knights, 1916
As a Slade student, Knights cultivated a dress style based on purity and simplicity, in hand-spun and hand-woven cloth, combining elements drawn from Renaissance painting and ‚Äúaesthetic dress‚Äù to create a compelling statement of feminine artistic identity. In Italy, she adopted a version of Italian peasant costume, subsequently retained all her life, consisting of ankle-length skirts of plain or checked cloth, coral necklaces and a broad-brimmed hat or headscarf.
Admired for her striking looks, Knights was portrayed by numerous painters and sculptors during her lifetime, including David Evans, Colin Gill, Alfred Hardiman, Arnold Mason, Ambrose McEvoy, Thomas Monnington and Mary Potter. In the major paintings produced by Gill and Monnington during their Scholarships at the British School at Rome, Knights is the principle figure and main source of inspiration. the Leonardo da Vinci-inspired hairstyle that became an essential characteristic of her artistic identity.