oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.7 cm.)
Catalogue Notes Christies, Sale 10730 Lot 102
In the phoney period at the outbreak of World War II before bombing commenced on London, Harold Knight was in Scotland painting a portrait and Laura stayed in Malvern. In Laura's autobiography she states '... to keep myself from going crackers, I painted the nearest thing to hand: the old back garden gate belonging to the hotel, and almost the last rose of summer, anything...no matter what...so long as I didn't stop to think' (The Magic of a Line, p. 273).
It was in this period of time in 1939 that it is believed that this picture was painted. There is a another work called 'Peach Blossom' believed to be painted at the same time that also depicts a cactus on the window sill.
On the death of the artist on 7th July 1970 this work, together with several other unsigned works, was in the artist's studio in Langford Place, London.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Dame Laura Knight currently being prepared by R. John Croft F.C.A., the artist’s great-nephew.
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Laura Johnson was born in Long Eaton in Derbyshire to Charles and Charlotte Johnson. Her father died not long after her birth, and Laura grew up in a family that struggled with financial problems. In 1899 (at the age of 13), she was sent to France with the intention that she would eventually study art at a Parisian atelier.
After a short time in French schools, she returned to England. There, at the age of 23, she entered the Nottingham School of Art, one of the youngest students ever to join the school.
At school, Laura met one of the most promising students, Harold Knight (1874–1961), aged 27, and determined that the best method of learning was to copy Harold's technique. They became friends, and married in 1903.
In 1907, the Knights moved to the artists' colony in Newlyn, Cornwall, alongside Lamorna Birch, Alfred Munnings and Aleister Crowley, where she painted in an Impressionist style. The Beach (1908), widely admired both by other artists and the public, is an example of this style. Another interesting work is The Green Feather, which was painted in one day. In 1913, she made a painting that was a first for a woman artist, Self Portrait with Nude, showing herself with a nude model, fellow artist Ella Naper. After the First World War, the Knights moved to London, where Laura met some of the most famous ballet dancers of the day, such as Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with Lydia Lopokova and Enrico Cecchetti, and Anna Pavlova. Her most famous work dates from this period. After a visit with her husband to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she saw an African-American for the first time, she remarked "The babies of American darkies are among the most beautiful things in the world. In fact, to the artist there is a whole world of beauty which ought to be explored in negro life in America." At the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Laura Knight won the Silver Medal in Painting with the painting Boxer (1917).
In 1929, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1936 she became the first woman elected to the Royal Academy. From 1933, Dame Laura and her husband became regular visitors to Malvern. They found much inspiration for their work in the Malvern Hills and in the surrounding Worcestershire countryside. A blue plaque at the Mount Pleasant Hotel on Belle Vue Terrace, Great Malvern, commemorates the time they spent in the area.
Second World War Artist's Studio in a Bomber Factory: Charge hand Wilfred Powell helps Dame Laura Knight to set out her paints on a work bench in readiness for the day's work. During the Second World War, Knight was an official war artist. She worked on several commissions for the Ministry of Information's War Artists Advisory Committee, and she was one of only three British women war artists who travelled abroad. Her works during this period include In For Repairs (1941), A Balloon Site, Coventry (1942), Ruby Loftus screwing a breech-ring (1943), Take Off (1944), Factory Workshops and Land Girls, amongst many others.
After the war, she was the official artist at the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazi war criminals. One result was The Dock, Nuremberg (1946). She continued to paint into the 1960s. She produced over 250 works in her lifetime as well as two autobiographies, Oil Paint and Grease Paint (1936) and The Magic of a Line (1965).