Leeds Art Gallery

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Cheyne Walk Chelsea

Knight, Dame Laura (1877-1970), c. 1909, Watercolour and Gouache 50.2 x 60.4cm.

Laura Knight was born Laura Johnson at Long Eaton in Derbyshire and was enrolled in the Nottingham School of art at the age of thirteen.  Later  she went to Staithes, where she made drawings and paintings of the local people in the fishing village and nearby farms.  The picture of Cheyne Walk in Chelsea was made around 1909 and donated to the Leeds Art Collections Fund by J.C. Lyon in 1913.  During the 1920s Knight painted portraits of the members of Sergei Diaghilev's <em>Ballets Russes</em> and of the performers at Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia. In the '30s she painted groups of gypsies on the racecourses at Ascot and Epsom and also in their settlements.  Her colourful  paintings were very popular and Knight became one of the most highly regarded British artists of the first half of the 20th century.  In 1929 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 1936 she became the first woman to be elected as a Royal Academician since 1769.  During the Second World War, Knight worked as an Offical War Artist, depicting women in the roles they had undertaken when male workers were conscripted into the Army.  In 1946 she spent three months at the war crimes trials in Nuremberg, observing inside the courtroom and creating a pictorial record of the proceedings.  In the post-war years she returned to her earlier themes and continued to paint right up to her death at the age of ninety-two.