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Roll Up! Laura Knight's Fine Circus Act at 19th Century Sale

A fully realised study of one of Dame Laura Knight's most significant and ambitious circus paintings Charivari is featured in the 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art sale on Wednesday 20 February at Bonhams New Bond Street. It has an estimate of £50,000-70,000.

The work, Charivari, itself is in the collection of Newport Museum and Gallery, having been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1929. In 1936, it was instrumental in helping Knight become the first woman elected to full membership of RA. Knight produced this highly detailed preliminary study of Charivari to refine and cement the composition of what she herself called "a complicated piece of work." This painting is signed 'Laura Knight' in the bottom right corner.

Bonhams Head of 19th Century Paintings Charles O'Brien commented, "Laura Knight shared a huge passion for the circus with the man who commissioned this work, Major Evelyn Atherley, and despite cautions from her fellow artist and husband, Harold Knight, she continued to accept the Major's requests for more characters to be added. Therefore, around the central figures of the clown Whimsical Walker and the Major's dog (the two original subjects), Knight drew up the choreographed chaos of the whole circus troupe, brilliantly capturing the rhythmic tension of so many components tumbling alongside each other."

In her autobiography Oil Paint and Grease Paint, Knight explains her fascination with the circus by saying, "It is the display of indomitable courage that one sees and admires, an admiration inherent in the human race."

The study was executed in 1928, a year before Knight was created a Dame, and has been consigned for sale from a private French collection where it has been for over 30 years. The painting gained much publicity when it was caricatured in Punch magazine, with the faces of politicians replacing those of the performers.

Other highlights include:

- Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, OM, RA (British, 1836-1912) The Education of the Children of Clotilde and Clovis. Estimate: £150,000-250,000.

- John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893) Autumn glow. Estimate: £100,000-150,000.

- John Atkinson Grimshaw (British, 1836-1893) Two Thousand Years Ago. Estimate: £100,000-150,000.

- William Bell Scott (Scottish, 1811-1890) The Norns watering the Tree of Life (Presented in the original gilt frame decorated by Henry Treffry Dunn). Estimate: £60,000-80,000.

- Archibald Thorburn (British, 1860-1935) Blackgame in woodland, winter. Estimate: £50,000-70,000.


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