Former Milton Keynes lecturer discusses new book showcasing pioneering artist, Laura Knight

The author of this new book chronicling the life of Laura Knight spoke to the MK Citizen, about the artist's unique journey.

By James Lowson
Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 12:25 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 12:26 pm

Dr Barbara C. Morden restarted researching legendary artist, Dame Laura Knight due to a desire to better tell her story.

In 2013, Laura Knight: A Life was published across the country detailing the life of the first woman elected to full membership at the Royal Academy.

Now, Laura Knight A Life, A biography by Dr Barbara C. Morden, has been republished this year, with new information and a new understanding of the artist.

Dame Laura Knight, Spring in Cornwall, Oil on canvas 1914-35, Tate (c) Tate Images

Author, Dr Morden felt her ability to properly tell the story of one of Britain's great artists was affected by conflicting family reports. She felt people close to Knight, wanted to present her life in a way that wasn't always reflective of her true personality. Whilst extremely helpful at times, Dr Morden believes information she's now seen was withheld from her a decade ago.

In rewriting the book and once again talking to people in Laura's life Dr Morden became close to Charlotte Bedford, better known as Gabby. Gabby was the great niece of Knight and offered a new perspective and invaluable information on the barrier-breaking artist.

Dr Morden told the MK Citizen: "Gabby became a great friend. She was a supermodel from Lucie Clayton College, same as Joanna Lumley and Twiggy. She was a supermodel before the money, truly became super.

"She was a great help and she died two years ago, I really wanted to do her justice. Relatives can be anxious, and want to tell their version of events. Gabby was interested in allowing Laura to reclaim her own narrative."

The Nuremberg Trial, 1946, Imperial War Museum

Knight died at 92, and was an artist her entire life, Dr Morden wanted to capture the 'free spirit' nature of one of the most influential artists in recent history. Knight's love of ballet and her time with the circus, reflected her love of the marginalised and unconventional the author believes.

As during those years learning art, Knight too dealt with socially-imposed restrictions, being a woman, in a world still dominated by the patriarchy, the author believes.

Dr Morden added: "She was fascinated by those communities after she left art school, people in the circus, at fairgrounds. She loved people who had a life that was not, run of the mill. She was always interested in people, who lived as far away as possible from a middle-class life."

Dr Morden who worked at Milton Keynes Open University for over 30 years, book covers the entirety of Knight's life. One event that she believes was truly pivotal, was the time she spent covering the Nuremberg Trials. This exploration of the cruelty of the acts committed by the Nazis during World War II, deeply affected Knight.

She was the only artist commissioned to cover those trials, offering her a front row seat to a historical global event.

Dr Morden commented on that phase of Knight's life: "I think it really broke her, I think it was one theatre too many. You can really sense the despair in her portrait featured in the Imperial War Museum.

"At first you see the auditorium, but then, beyond that in the background, what she painted is truly apocalyptic."

The book covers other major aspects of Knight's life including her relationship with her husband, Harold. Also, the impact of living through two World Wars, including the second, which she covered firsthand in an official capacity. As well as Knight's travel across Europe and North America, and her love of the arts such as ballet.

A recent review, from the Daily Art Magazine, described the book as 'immense' , crediting Dr Morden's exhaustive research and celebration of great art.

Laura Knight's art will be featured this autumn at MK Gallery, from October 9 2021 to February 20 2022.