Master From The Past – Dame Laura Knight

The English artist, Dame Laura Knight holds a special place in my affections. She died a year before I was born at the age of 92.

In her long industrious career she was a popular and successful painter and was the first woman ever to be elected a Royal Academician in 1936 at the age of 59.

Dame Laura painted in the figurative, realist tradition which we have come to know as English impressionism. What I respond to most about her work is that she avidly sketched and painted from life. Her subjects were the day to day life of poor fishing communities, gypsies, entertainers, ballet dancers and circus performers.

She started her studies in Nottingham where she met her husband, artist Harold Knight and they were both members of the Nottingham Society of Artists, which I also joined whilst I was still a student. They went on to live and paint in the northern fishing village of Staithes, which remains so unchanged you can easily imagine the characters they painted still working here. I am lucky to stay in Staithes (North Yorkshire) each year, as I now teach a Plein Air workshop for the Staithes Art School.

The couple moved on to live and paint in Newlyn and Lamorna on the beautiful south west coast of Cornwall, enjoying the special quality of light there and the milder climate. They attracted a little community of like minded artists wanting to paint in the open air, such as Alfred Munnings. The book and film ‘Summer in February’ is based on their time here and focussed on Munnings relationship with his first wife.

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