Laura Knight by Caroline Fox


I have loved Laura Knight’s paintings for years. I have always seen a lot of her work because I live in Cornwall very near to where she lived and worked and also because her word seems beloved by book jacket designers.

Yet I knew little about her. Who was she?

Laura Johnson was born in Nottingham in 1877. Her family was poor, particularly when her father died when Laura was just six years old, but they pulled together and worked hard and Laura’s artistic talent and ambitions were always supported. Life was difficult though and her mother died while Laura was still a young woman.

The work ethic and the need to do everything possible to make the future secure would never leave Laura.

She attended Nottingham School of Art and it was there that she met her future husband, Harold Knight. They spent time in various places before moving to Cornwall in 1913.

They were to stay there for ten years and formed close ties with the Newlyn art colony. Laura’s work developed and flourished and many of her best known paintings come from this period.

In 1918, with some regret, the Knights left Cornwall and moved to London. Over the years Laura found new subject matter – including the ballet, the theatre, the circus and gypsies.

Laura Knight was awarded a DBE 1929, the first woman artist to be elevated in this way.

She never lost her work ethic and accepted commissions from the War Artists Advisory Committee. Post war she was commissioned again for the Nuremberg trials.

And she continued to paint, but after the death of her husband Harold in 1961 the number of her works declined.

When Laura Knight died in 1970 she was one of Britain’s best loved artists.

Caroline Fox’s biography is clear and well-written. Although it is fairly short it gives a good overview of Laura Knight’s life and career.

The volume and range of Laura Knight’s work illustrating this volume is quite wonderful.

But there is also a three-dimensional picture of Laura Knight, the woman, who made friends wherever she went and always rated her husband’s talent above her own. At the end of this book I was sufficiently enchanted to want to track down Laura Knight’s two volumes of autobiography.

She worried that she “tried too many different media, too many different subjects”, but her body of work suggests otherwise.

As Caroline Fox writes, “Laura Knight painted humanity in all its guises”.

3 responses

  1. Interesting! I had not heard of Laura Knight, but I want to know more now. Thanks for the review – I wonder if I can find a copy of the book here in the US?

  2. Laura Knight was highly acclaimed in the UK, but how widely recognised she was elsewhere I don’t know. There have been a number of books about her and she would be prominent in books about the Newlyn school of artists too. I hope you find something Laura!

  3. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: February 14, 2009 at Semicolon

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