Painting by Dame Laura Knight loaned to the Laing Art Gallery

Published: 17 March 2021

An oil painting by Dame Laura Knight has been loaned to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the exhibition ‘Challenging Convention: Gwen John, Vanessa Bell, Dod Procter & Laura Knight'’. The exhibition has been delayed due to the pandemic and lockdown but will hopefully run from 17th May to 21st August 2021. It explores four women artists – Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Laura Knight (1877-1970), Gwen John (1876-1939) and Dod Procter (1890-1972) - through their lives and work in a climate of modernism, transformation and increasing emancipation. See more here.

‘The Three Clowns’ is a vivid colourful portrayal of three circus clowns taking a break away from the ring. Knight reveals a sympathetic study of the individuals behind the greasepaint and costumes. Her interest in the circus began in the mid-1920s and in 1929 she joined the Mills and Carmo Company on tour for the summer season in order to devote her time entirely to drawing scenes from daily life under the big top. The friendships she developed in this period were to last throughout her life, as was her love for painting these colourful performers and their animals. The clowns in this painting were her friends Randy, Marba and Joe Bert.

The Three Clowns
The Three Clowns

Laura Knight attended Nottingham School of Art and her reputation is founded on her atmospheric paintings of the theatre, ballet and circus. An Official War Artist during the Second World War, she painted the Nuremberg Trials and was given a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1965.

‘The Three Clowns’ was acquired by Leicester Museums in 1934, less than five years after it was created, and is one of four works by Knight in the museum collections. Two of the others are also studies from the circus: ‘The Bareback Rider’ etching acquired in 1946 and ‘Nothing Rolls Like A Ball’ watercolour and charcoal which was acquired in 1992. The final work by her in the collection is a Portrait of a Girl which is thought to be an early drawing, perhaps created when she was still a student.

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