Dame Laura Knight, R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1877-1970)
Dancer in Dressing Room signed 'Laura Knight' (lower right) oil on canvas 61.2 x 51.5 cm. (24 1/8 x 20 1/8 in.) Painted circa 1925
PROVENANCE: With Wally Findlay Gallery, Chicago Mrs Alvin Bradley, 1960
Laura Knight first became interested in the ballet before the First World War, mainly due to one of her models in Cornwall, Dolly Snell, who was a Tiller Girl, and encouraged Laura to take some lessons at Tiller's Dancing Academy. Dolly later married Harold Knight's younger brother and went to live with him in the U.S.A.
Laura's growing interest in the ballet resulted in her coming up to London from her then home in Cornwall, with her husband Harold Knight, to see Diaghilev's ballet and also to see Adelina Genée at the old Empire Music Hall in Leicester Square.
The earliest ballet scene works of the artist were exhibited at Ernest Brown, Leicester Galleries, Leicester Square, London in 1912, but the majority of the artists more famous works date from the years following the First World War. As early as 1919 when the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev gave permission for Laura to sketch the ballerinas backstage at the Coliseum, she was embraced as part of the world of dancers and was given an intimacy that a male artist would not have been permitted.
The ballerinas regarded Knight as a fellow professional and allowed her to work uninterrupted as she observed them working. Whilst Laura had the privilege of working backstage in Anna Pavlova's and her great friend Lydia Lopokova's dressing room, Laura also loved painting in the rooms of the supporting cast such as this scene, which depicts the dancer Barbara Bonner, whom Knight sketched on further occasions. The resulting pictures are natural and uncontrived and capture the individual character of ballet dancers.
This particular backstage work has great similarities to Looking in the Glass, circa 1930 that depicts the same ballet dancer, in what looks like the same room, mirror and hat box tucked away under the dressing table.
We are grateful to R. John Croft FCA the artist's great nephew, for compiling this catalogue entry. The picture will feature in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Dame Laura and her husband Harold Knight.
Please see www.damelauraknight.com for more information on the artist.