Laura Knight (1877 - 1970)

Spring, 1920

SKU: 10087
The 1931 Medici colour reproduction, in a fine Rowley Gallery railroad silvered frame with incised gesso ornamentation.

Height – 46.3cm x Width – 55.2cm


The Artist’s Studio
Exhibited at the R.A, 1916 (145), Spring was  reproducted in the Royal Academy Illustrated of the same year.  In 1931, in a slightly altered version, where the artist replaced the figure of a man in the foreground with a young boy, it became widely  know as a a Medici print.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I 

Painted in 1916 Spring was acquired by the Tate in 1935 as a Chantrey Purchase made directly from the artist..

The artist wrote (loc. cit.) that the idea of this picture goes back to the period of the Boer War, when she was staying in Staithes in Yorkshire. She described her first view of primroses in the valley called Pearly Bottom and her first desire to paint landscape: I went there many times, hoping to make studies for a great work. There was to be everything that I know of spring in that big picture. All I learned there was the origin of a work called Spring painted in Cornwall years later. The picture was actually begun early in 1916, the scene was Lamorna Valley and the models were Ella and Charles Napier. In a letter (15 November 1957) she wrote: This picture was painted during the World’s War No. I. At that time it was against the law to paint out of doors anywhere near the Cornish Coast. And to get the material I needed, here and there, I had to lie on my stomach under a gorse or any other convenient bush, in dread of being taken off to prison, to make a line or two in a sketch book, memorise – rush back into my studio, and paint. It was exhibited with the original man in it. … For some reason or other I changed the original and put a boy in instead of the man who now figures again in the work, and the copyright with the boy in was bought by the Medici Society, whose recent reproductions of the picture imply a brownish painting, which it never was. I had this picture, which traveled round to many exhibitions, both in England and abroad, for many years, and finally decided that I had made a mistake in changing the age of the male figure, I gave the boy the boot and put back the man. … While exhibited in the International Exhibition at Pittsburgh sometime between the 2 World Wars, it was badly injured (in colour) by the terrible acidity of that smoky atmosphere caused by the immense area nearby of Carnegie Steel Works. I had a terrible business in taking off the varnish to save it – and had to do some repainting. It was then I put the man back in his place. … And I do hope it may have again the title I gave it. I hate a title that localises a picture – just a view. Why not have a photograph if that’s what is wanted. The picture was previously catalogued as Spring in Cornwall.

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Laura Knight
1877 - 1970

Laura Knight (maiden name Johnson) was born in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, the daughter of Charles and Charlotte Johnson. Her father died not long after her birth, and Laura Knight grew up in a family that struggled with financial problems.

In 1899 she was sent to France with the intention that she would eventually study art at a Parisian atelier. However, events would prevent this course of study.

Instead, after a short time in French schools, Laura Johnson returned to England. There, at the age of 13 she entered the Nottingham School of Art, one of the youngest students ever to join the school.

Whilst at school, she met one of the most promising students, Harold Knight, aged 17. Laura Johnson determined that the best method of learning was to copy Harold’s technique. They soon became friends, and in 1903 Laura Johnson married Harold Knight (1874-1961).

In 1907 the Knights moved to the artists’ colony in Newlyn, Cornwall, alongside Lamorna Birch, Alfred Munnings and Aleister Crowley, where she painted in an Impressionist style. The Beach (1908), widely admired both by other artists and the public, is an example of this style. Another interesting work is The Green Feather, which was painted in one day. In 1913 she made a painting that was a first for a woman artist, Self Portrait with Nude, showing Laura Knight with a nude model (fellow artist Ella Naper was the model).

After World War I, the Knights moved to London where Laura Knight met some of the most famous ballet dancers of the day, such as Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with Lydia Lopokova and Enrico Cecchetti, and Anna Pavlova. Her most famous work dates from this period.

While she was a well-educated and by no means, racist woman, Laura Knight, using a term common at the time, did make what today would be considered a racist remark after she had seen an African-American for the first time. It came after a recent visit to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she had accompanied her husband. “The babies of American darkies,” she declared, “Are among the most beautiful things in the world. In fact, to the artist there is a whole world of beauty which ought to be explored in negro life in America.” [New York Times, 3 November 1927, Page 23, Column 5.]

In 1928 the circus became her inspiration.

In 1929 that she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 1936 she became the first woman elected to the Royal Academy.

In the 1930s, she began to paint the world of horse racing and Gypsies.

After World War II, she was the official war artist at the Nuremberg Trials. The result was The Dock, Nuremberg (1946). She continued to paint even after her husband’s death in 1961. She produced over 250 works in her lifetime as well as two autobiographies, Oil Paint and Grease Paint (1936) and The Magic of a Line (1965).