Dame Laura Knight, RA, RWS (British, 1877-1970) A Seaside Holiday

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Lot 112AR
Dame Laura Knight, RA, RWS
(British, 1877-1970)
A Seaside Holiday

Sold for £ 81,250 (US$ 112,366) inc. premium
Dame Laura Knight, RA, RWS (British, 1877-1970)
A Seaside Holiday
'Mr and Mrs Esme de Peyer (Edith Bartlett) and their children'
signed 'Laura Knight' (lower left)
oil on canvas
108 x 127.9cm (42 1/2 x 50 3/8in).


  • Provenance
    Mr and Mrs Esme de Peyer Collection, UK.
    Thence by direct descent.

    London, Royal Academy, 1932, no. 363.
    Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, 1933, no. 87.

    Royal Academy Illustrated, 1932, p. 90 (illustrated in black and white).

    Laura Knight began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1903 and was the first woman elected as a Royal Academician in 1936, having been awarded her DBE seven years earlier. During World War Two she was a commissioned war artist and, throughout her life, painted a wide range of subjects including the ballet, theatre, portraits, the circus, gypsies and coastal views. The present lot, painted in 1931, is of the de Peyer family: Edith and Esme de Peyer and their three children Gervase, Deidre and Adrian. In addition to being a portrait, the painting depicts a holiday scene, as the family take in the sun at their home in Middleton on Sea.

    It is likely that Knight was introduced to Edith and Esme by Edith's sister, Ethel Bartlett, and they bonded over a shared love of music. In the early 1920s, Knight and her husband Harold moved to a house in St John's Wood and his large studio became a music room. In Knight's autobiography, she says: 'we hired two Bechstein grand pianos, at pro's price, and many were the rehearsals and performances given there by beginners and stars of the musical world'.1 In addition to musicians such as John Barbirolli, Jan Smeterlin, Harriet Cohen and Miriam Licette, the Knights befriended Ethel Bartlett and her husband Rae Robertson. The Bartlett-Robertson duo were credited with popularising two-piano music, and the Knights were among the first to hear them play together. Both Harold and Laura painted Ethel, with Laura commenting that 'the study of the simple lines of her beauty took me by storm'.2 Her portrait of Ethel was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1926 and Harold painted several portraits of her between 1923 and 1952.

    Edith de Peyer was also a gifted musician, and she and Esme would sing for the Knights. But it was their son Gervase, who is seated on the far-right horse and was five when the work was painted, who was the most talented instrumentalist of them all. He made his public debut at just 16, playing a Mozart concerto broadcasted on the BBC before going on to become a world-famous clarinettist, conductor and teacher. He had an illustrious career: he was a Principal at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) 1955-1972, he co-founded the Melos Ensemble in London, and his overall form and tone inspired many compositions. He made his debut in the US with the LSO and he became the founding member and clarinettist of the Lincoln Centre Chamber Music Society in New York from 1969, playing with them for twenty years and eventually settling in New York. Adrian, his younger brother, was a celebrated tenor.

    Knight has depicted the de Peyer family on top of a shallow cliff, viewed from below. She completed several preliminary studies en plein air (fig. 1 & 2) and has successfully integrated these preparatory works into a balanced composition. Knight uses the horses' reins to lead our eyes from Gervase to Deidre and back up to Edith (who is carrying Adrian). Adrian's extended hand, holding a flower, encourages the viewer to look to the stoic figure of Esme in the centre. The horses stand majestically, their healthy coats glistening in the sun. Lamorna Birch and his Daughters, 1934 (The University of Nottingham Museum), a much larger portraiture work that Knight started in 1918, bears some resemblance to the present lot. Like A Seaside Holiday, the 1934 oil painting is characterised by bright colour and confident brushwork and the viewer – this time through the use of outstretched limbs and tree branches rather than horses' reins – is led through the scene.

    The present lot also shares a likeness with paintings Knight completed earlier while working on the Cornish Coast (1907-18). During this time, she was primarily a painter of sunlight, focusing on capturing women and children by the sea. The painter Norman Garstin described Knight's work from this period as being '...plunged into a riot of brilliant sunshine of opulent colour and sensuous gaiety'.3 A Seaside Holiday likewise transports the viewer into a pleasant and carefree scene; it is an intimate and joyous depiction of a talented family, whom Laura Knight greatly cared for (fig. 3).

    This affection became more obvious when in 1970, after Knight's death, her house was offered (first right of refusal) to the de Peyer family. Esme subsequently purchased it. The portrait was therefore on display in the same studio where Esme, Edith and Ethel had spent so many wonderful evenings. The work has been in the same family collection since it was painted.

    We are grateful to Mr R. John Croft FCA for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    1 Laura Knight, The Magic of a Line, London, 1965, p. 188
    2 Laura Knight, Oil paint and Grease Paint, London, 1936, p. 239.
    3 Caroline Fox, Dame Laura Knight, Oxford, 1988, p. 28.
Dame Laura Knight, RA, RWS (British, 1877-1970) A Seaside Holiday
Dame Laura Knight, RA, RWS (British, 1877-1970) A Seaside Holiday
Dame Laura Knight, RA, RWS (British, 1877-1970) A Seaside Holiday
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