MK Gallery is promising a ‘Panoramic View’ of Dame Laura Knight when their major exhibition exploring the trailblazing artist opens in October 2021
The first in a year-long programme of solo-exhibitions by female artists, including Ingrid Pollard and Vivian Maier, MK Gallery’s exploration of Laura Knight (1877-1970) – arguably one of the most popular English artists of the 20th century – is the most significant presentation of her work in over 50 years.
Laura Knight, A Panoramic View celebrates one of England’s most prolific artists, a pioneering painter of women, war and marginalised people with a long and successful career that saw her travel the world and break conventions.
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Bringing together over 100 works from public and private collections, the exhibition includes rarely seen paintings and graphic works as well as designs for ceramics, jewellery and costume.
It travels from her early years at Nottingham Art School in 1899 at the age of just 13, through landscapes of her beloved Cornwall created whilst living in an artist commune in Newlyn to her famous wartime portraits and much-loved evocations of circus life.
Thematic groupings explore key subjects in Knight’s work, such as the backstage life of ballet dancers and theatre performers and the magical world of the circus, as well as portraits of the travelling community in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
Also included are paintings of the racially segregated maternity ward at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where Knight travelled in 1926 and met campaigners of the Civil Rights movement.
The exhibition features some of Knight’s best-known works, created during the Second World War and commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, depicting women’s work in the war effort and also her important work covering the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals, recorded over three months in Germany.
Working closely with Knight’s great nephew John Croft, MK Gallery has been actively sourcing many previously unseen works for the exhibition, which gallery Director Anthony Spira promises will be “an opportunity to look afresh both at Knight’s technical virtuosity as an artist and the role she played in dismantling institutional gender barriers in the 20th century”.
“She was a truly modern artist – refusing to shy away from subjects that were underrepresented or hard-hitting and not afraid to reinvent her style throughout her long career.”
Knight’s range of subjects, command of multiple techniques and extraordinary virtuosity combined to make her the first woman modern art star.
She stormed the traditional male enclave of the Royal Academy, becoming the first woman elected to full membership in 1936, and was the first female artist to be appointed Dame of the British Empire.
In her 1965 autobiography The Magic of a Line Knight wrote: “Even today, a female artist is considered more or less a freak, and may be undervalued or overpraised… Now that womankind are no longer born to hold a needle in one hand and a scrubbing brush in the other, what great things may not happen?”
An extensive catalogue accompanies the exhibition, bringing fresh voices into the appreciation of Knight’s achievements, from a contemporary perspective. These include contributions by artists Monster Chetwynd, Hannah Starkey and Barbara Walker as well as writer Damian Le Bas, amongst others.
Laura Knight, A Panoramic View is at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes from October 9 2021 – February 20 2022.
Central Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
MK Gallery is a public contemporary gallery located in central Milton Keynes with a national and international reputation for its artistic programme. It launched with an exhibition by Gilbert & George and has presented over 100 exhibitions in its first 15 years of operation. Main gallery exhibitions are accompanied by…