Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) – who grew up impoverished and was orphaned as a teenager – was an English artist who helped change the landscape of the British art world, making it more inclusive as well as driving new reformative attitudes to working females, thereby contributing to the broader emancipation movement.
Knight was a painter in the figurative, realist tradition, who embraced English Impressionism. She worked in oils, watercolours, etching, engraving and drypoint.
Her father deserted his family shortly before Laura's birth on August 4, 1877 after learning that his wife's family lace factory was not profitable.
Knight went to study art in France in 1889 when she was only 12, but the family's ill fortune continued. Her sister Nell died, and her grandmother became sick, and Laura was forced to return to England. There she began a productive period, working at the Nottingham School of Art. Once again tragedy struck: in 1892, her mother became fatally ill. While still a student, Laura, at the age of 16, had to claim to be an adult as she took on her mother's teaching responsibilities to help support the family.
Laura Knight was progressive beyond her time, using her artistic talent to challenge the outdated treatment of female artists.
In 1913, Knight painted the revolutionary painting, Self Portrait with Nude (see more below). This then-subversive self-portrait was the first instance in the history of art of a painting depicting a female artist engaging in the practice of life drawing.
In her long career, Knight was among the most successful and popular painters in Britain (at one time more successful than her artist-husband, Harold). Her success in the male-dominated British art establishment paved the way for greater status and recognition for women artists.
Knight, a war artist during the Second World War (see Canadian war art, below) and visual chronicler of the Nuremberg War Trials, was particularly interested in, and inspired by, marginalized communities and individuals, including gypsies and circus performers (she even joined a circus company as it toured central England).
"As in the fourteen lines of a sonnet, a few strokes of the pencil can hold immensity."
* Painting (middle): Portrait of Laura by her husband, Harold.
* Sources: Wikipedia; Sothebys.com; National Portrait Gallery; WikiArt; encyclopedia.com.