Winifred Knights (1899-1947)

Dulwich Picture Gallery

8 June – 18 September 2016

£5.50 with National Art Pass (standard entry £11)

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The first major retrospective of the artist's work reunites all of her completed paintings for the first time since their creation.

Five years in Rome introduced Knights to the work of the Italian Quattrocentro artists, and their flattened perspectives, low-toned colours and frieze like compositions would become features in her own paintings. Yet Knights never simply imitated, and instead would draw on her own experiences – from the traumatic Silvertown Explosion she witnessed during the First World War to her ongoing struggle for female empowerment – to enrich her art. In fact her work was often so personal that she would portray herself as the protagonist, modelling secondary figures on friends and family from her inner circle.

Slade School trained, Knights attention to detail was meticulous; she would spend hours painstakingly producing observational life drawings before she began to paint. On display are 120 prepartory studies, illustrations and portraits that showcase her extraordinary practice.

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In 1920 Knights became the first British woman to win the Prix de Rome with The Deluge. All scholarship students were asked to paint the great flood over the course eight weeks, and Knights' version went through many incarnations including one featuring Noah loading animals on to the ark.

However as she began to run out of time, Knights had to simplify her vision and the final piece shows people fleeing the rising waters in a bid for higher ground. The figures were modelled by her mother, partner Arnold Mason, and herself, while the scene is based on Clapham Common. It was chosen on the insistence of John Singer Sargent who saw 'a rare command of technique in hue, figure and composition, and a meticulous care in detail'.

Venue information

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)