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Laura Knight in Penzance, Nottingham and Worcester

The Government Art Collection has lent two drawings by Laura Knight, Sowing Potatoes on a Windy Day c1950–1953 and Changing Weather, Stourport 1949 to 'Laura Knight: In The Open Air', an exhibition that will tour to Penzance, Nottingham and Worcester from 16 June – 10 February 2013.

Sowing Potatoes on a Windy Day

© Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2009. All Rights Reserved

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Dame Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) first started to paint outdoors in Staithes, on the Yorkshire coast, an activity she continued when visiting the artists' colony in Laren in Holland around 1905. In 1907 Knight moved with her husband Harold to Newlyn in Cornwall where she would often make outdoor trips to take advantage of the wonderful light, the sea and the rocky coast. In The Open Air includes outdoor paintings made during the course of her long career, including depictions of Romany life, the spectacular panoramas below the Malvern Hills and the devastated townscape that forms the backdrop of her famous depiction to the Nuremberg war trials.

Sowing Potatoes on a Windy Day (image 1) depicts a group of women wrapped in scarves, tunics and aprons battling against the wind to plant their crop. There is more than a passing resemblance to Jean François Millet's (1814-75) studies of peasants working on the land but whereas the French artist's paintings were often serene and bathed in golden light, Knight's painting focuses on the arduous nature of the women's labour and the inclement weather. This loosely handled watercolour, with its well observed sturdy figures, has a sense of immediacy as well as movement which suggests that it was an image she drew from life.

A sense of drama can also be seen in Changing Weather, Southport (image 2) the other work on loan from the Collection by Knight. With its patches of dark and light, the landscape reflects a mercurial quality that often accompanies a rapid change in weather conditions, with a rainbow shaft breaking through the clouds massing on the distant dark hills.

In the 1920s and 30s after moving to London from Newlyn in Cornwall, Knight's painting and drawing frequently depicted the figures and activities of theatre, circus, ballet and gypsy life, subjects which established Knight as one of the most successful women artists of her time. During this period she painted scenes while backstage at the performances of Serge Diaghilev's (1872–1929) Ballets Russes in London; and also travelled with the Mills and Carmos Circus in England. The drama and illusion of theatrical life was a constant theme in Knight's later work, which is indicated by the title of her first autobiography, Oil Paint and Grease Paint, written in 1936.

Dame Laura Knight was born in Long Eaton in Derbyshire and grew up in Nottingham, where she was encouraged by her mother to draw and paint. At thirteen she attended Nottingham School of Art where she later met her future husband, the painter Harold Knight. She was drawn to the outdoor life and artistic colonies of Staithes in Yorkshire and, notably, Newlyn in Cornwall, where she became an integral figure of the artistic colony, the 'Newlyn School' between 1907 and 1918. After the First World War she returned to London where she exhibited work frequently. In 1928 she became a member of the Royal Academy and in the following year she was made a Dame of the British Empire.

Exhibition touring dates
Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, 16 June – 8 September 2012
Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, 22 September – 4 November 2012
Worcester Art Gallery & Museum, 17 November 2012 – 10 February 2013

Further information

Penlee House Gallery and Museum website

Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham

Worcester Art Gallery & Museum