Harold Knight

(1874 - 1961)


Signed, lower left: Harold Knight 
Oil on canvas
29 x 24 in – 73.6 x 61 cm
Frame size
33 x 38 in – 83.8 x 96.5 cm 

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7839 7693


Private collection, UK 
Although not exhibited at The Royal Academy until 1921 the present work seems likely to have been painted during Knight's time in Newlyn, where he and his wife Laura lived from 1908. It bears comparison to similar 'en plain air' paintings such as 'Portrait of Florence' (circa 1909-10, Private Collection), and "The Bathing Pool' (1916, The Laing Art Gallery), the former an intimate depiction of the future Mrs Alfred Munnings, who suffered from severe depression and with whom the reserved and introverted Knight formed a close friendship, before her suicide in 1914. In the present work, the subject's face is obscured, her pale gown reflecting the white veronicas which are, in turn, silhouetted against the ethereal and complex morning light, elements which together, give rise to a pervasive sense of harmony with nature. It was the distinctive West Country light which first attracted artists to Newlyn, light which eminent writer and poet Arthur Symons described as having '...an air of dreams, at once formidable and mysterious, every hour has its own charm and character, which change visibly and in surprising ways.' (A. Symons, 'At Land's End, Cities, Coasts and Islands, London 1918)


Harold Knight was born in Nottingham and studied at the Nottingham School of Art where he met his wife to be Laura Johnson (1877-1970). He continued his studies at the Royal College of Art and then in Paris under Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) and Benjamin Constant (1845-1902), a conventional academic training. However, following his return to England he and Laura painted in the Yorkshire fishing village of Staithes, where a colony of artists worked from the 1880’s.

The fisher people of Staithes provided a source of subject matter ideal for Knights ‘plein-air’ realism, a style, following a visit with Laura to Holland, influenced by the Hague School. In 1907, the Knights moved to Newlyn, home to Stanhope Forbes’ colony of painters. Here they associated with the group of artists surrounding their close friends Houghton and Samuel John Lamorna Birch (1869-1955), including Harold (1874-1941) and Gertrude Harvey (1879-1966), Ernest (1885-1935) and Dod Proctor (1890-1972), Charles Simpson (1885-1971) and latterly Sir Alfred J. Munnings (1879-1959). The Newlyn years saw profound changes in Knight’s palette, richer, more colourful, a clarity of light and a growing distance from the gritty realism of his early years. Portraiture, figures and interiors became the major part of his oeuvre, his talent for portraiture being seen in his Staithes fishing subjects. On their return to London the Knights moved to St. Johns Wood. Harold Knight was elected ARA in 1928 and RA in 1937, portraits dominating his exhibited works from 1930 until his death in 1961.

His works can be found in museums in: Blackpool; Cape Town; Leeds; London, Tate Gallery; Merthyr Tydfil; Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery; Nottingham, Castle Museum and Penzance, Penlee Art Museum.

Knight Harold