DAME LAURA KNIGHT: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BALLET AND CIRCUS

DAME LAURA KNIGHT: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BALLET AND CIRCUS

18/11/2021     Painting & Fine Art


Dame Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) is one of Britain’s greatest leading female
artists. Knight is celebrated for her depictions of theatre and circus performers,
as well as her portraits of women and children. We are delighted to be offering
three works on paper by the artist in our upcoming 19th & 20th
Century Paintings, Works on Paper and Sculpture sale taking place on Tuesday 23 November at 2pm.



 

‘Laura was undoubtedly happiest when painting informal scenes backstage of

dancers in their dressing rooms... Her dressing-room paintings express this joy in
her surroundings...’
(CAROLINE FOX, DAME LAURA KNIGHT, 1988, P. 52).

 

In 1919 Laura Knight moved from Cornwall to London where she was invited
backstage by the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev during the third season of his
Ballets Russes. This new subject matter absorbed and fascinated Knight and she
attended every show ,capturing the intimate backstage rituals of the performers.
She was embraced by the ballerinas and given an intimacy that a male artist
would not have been permitted. Laura painted many of the leading ballet stars at
the time including Nijinsky, Karsavina, Lopokova, Massinme and Pavlova.
Lot 70 'The Golden Cloak', Diaghilev Ballet, backstage is one of a series of works
that Knight executed of the Bballets Russes. At the right of the composition is a
ballet dancer in costume, gracefully stretching in preparation for her
performance. The shadowed background hints at the unseen buzz of anticipation
beyond. One can almost sense the excited murmur of the audience taking their
seats and the tuning of the orchestra.

 

 

Lot 71. In the wings is one of the many sketches that Knight drew whilst behind
the scenes at the ballet. The work is charming and almost humorous and depicts
the inner sanctum of the performers’ world.

 


'I have often tried to analyse the circus appeal. It is the display of indomitable
courage that one sees and admires, an admiration inherent in the human race'.

(LAURA KNIGHT, OIL PAINT AND GREASE PAINT, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LAURA KNIGHT,
LONDON, 1936, P. 299)
 
During her life-time Laura Knight was well known for her depictions of the circus.
Knight first started painting and drawing circus scenes when a porter at
Paddington station suggested that she go to a ‘real old-fashioned circus’ at the
Agricultural Hall at Islington. In 1923 or 1924 Alfred Munnings introduced her to
Captain Bertram Mills who had just started his world-famous circus. Mills gave
Knight permission to paint and sketch whatever caught her imagination in his
circus and a year later she joined Harry Cameron's The Great Carmo circus
where she was fully immersed into everyday circus life. Knight was captivated by
the particular world of circuses and the multitude of spectacles that it offered for
sketching.
 
In the 1920s, she sketched
horses for the first time and excitedly described the experience, ‘I
found a brave opportunity in Carmo’s stable tent – what a joy! Although four-
footed, such an animal’s anatomy can be compared with that of the human
body, and I did not lose any opportunity to learn all I could about something I had
always wished to study. How I loved those beasts.’ (Laura Knight, The Magic of a
Line: The Autobiography, London, 1965, p. 239).
 
 
The paintings will be offered in our 19th & 20th Century Paintings, Works on Paper
and Sculpture sale taking place on Tuesday 23 November at 2pm.
 
 
For more information on these lot or the rest of the sale, please contact:
 
 
 
VIEW THE 19TH & 20TH CENTURY PAINTINGS CATALOGUE HERE