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Biggest Laura Knight exhibition in over 50 years heads to MK Gallery 2

painting of two young female dancers in white dresses in their dressing room

Laura Knight, The Dressing Room at Drury Lane ( 1922) Photo © The Atkinson, Lord Street, Southport. © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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.

painting of a circus people including horse riders, acrobats and clowns gathering offstage in a circus tent

Laura Knight, Circus Matinee (1938). Photo © Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021. All Rights Reserved.

pencil sketch of young woman with fringed hair in side profile

Laura Knight, Study of a Girl aka Sarah (c. 1893). Private collection. Photo courtesy John Mitchell Fine Paintings © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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.”

portrait full face painting of a young woman in a blue dress

Laura Knight, Pearl Johnson (1929). Collection of Kevin Finch, Photo courtesy Kevin Finch © Reproduced
with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021. All Rights Reserved.

portriat photo of a two women in Royal Air Force uniform and WWII-styled tin hats

Laura Knight, Assistant Section Leader Elspeth Henderson, MM, and Sergeant Helen Turner, MM, Women’s Auxiliary Air Service (1941) The Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Photo © The Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

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.

painitng of a woman with fashionable bobbed hair seated in a golden-framed chair

Laura Knight, Lubov Tchernicheva (1921) Private collection, Photo courtesy Liss Llewellyn © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Laura Knight, A Panoramic View is at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes from October 9 2021 – February 20 2022. 

venue

MK Gallery

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…

2 comments on “Biggest Laura Knight exhibition in over 50 years heads to MK Gallery

  1. Rosalind Clayton on

    Laura Knight RA; do we need to book a timed slot? Please advise when catalogue available.
    Also, please note, Laura Knight was not the first woman Royal Academician, whatever Wikipedia might say. That honour goes to Angelica Kauffman RA and Mary Moser RA, both electected in 1768.

    Reply

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