Here's to Laura
When I began drafting the concept of The Enchanted Cove, back in 2014, as soon as the character of the slightly eccentric artist aunt came to mind there was only one woman who could be my inspiration for her— Dame Laura Knight. Originally the profession of the children's Great Aunt simply provided me with a stylistic vehicle to allow the story to be set in Cornwall, at the Enchanted Cove; much as the evacuation of the Pevensie to stay with the old professor in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe leads to the discovery of Narnia, or how orphan Kay Harker's school holidays with relatives lead to adventures in The Box of Delights.
Following a visit to an exhibition of her portraits in London I picked up a biography of Knight and was fascinated by her life story. I knew she was associated with Cornwall and the Newlyn painters and had seen many of her paintings of local children at play and Cornish landscapes but I was unaware of her extraordinary life story and the range of her artistic talent.
Laura was born in 1877 into a relatively wealthy Derbyshire family who were involved in the lace making industry of the 19th century; but the family's fortunes changed with foreign trade and evolving fashions to financial hardship.
Young Laura showed a precocious talent from an early age and through her own determination and perseverance was admitted to Nottingham art school at only 13 years old—at which time she first met and admired the 17 year-old Harold Knight who went on to become her friend and eventually her life partner during a marriage of more than 50 years. During her career she favoured plein air painting but she also experimented with a remarkable range of techniques and subjects including landscapes, portraits, ceramics and printing. She spent time with gypsies, circus folk, jockeys and the Russian Ballet as well as back stage at theatres where she sketched many up and coming actors of her era whilst they were appearing in reparatory theatre.
Her memoir The Magic of a Line is a captivating, moving and amusing 'who's who' of the early 20th century and a tumultuous time in British history but throughout two world wars, her husband's ill health and financial and creative struggles Laura continues to come across as a witty, lively, ferociously talented and (despite her devotion to Harold) strong and independent woman who was far ahead of her time.
So it was no surprise to learn that Dame Laura Knight, who died at the extraordinary age for someone of her generation of 92, was the first woman to be given full membership of the Royal Academy.
Here's to Laura, a woman who truly helped to lay the foundations for women artists in a male- dominated world!