The Friends of Dame Laura Knight Society,
Malvern & Colwall Branch

Review Article

‘Laura Knights Portraits: Lost, Destroyed or Shipwrecked’ talk by Rosie Broadley from the NPG at Colwall Village Hall 25th October 2014

We were treated to a fascinating, insightful talk by Rosie Broadley, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery, at Colwall Village Hall on 25th October. This had been organised, as with our previous autumn talks, in conjunction with the ‘Autumn in Malvern Festival’. Rosie had researched and presented a major exhibition titled ‘Laura Knights portraits’ last year which ran from 11th July until 13th October. Several of us were fortunate enough to make the trip in September and enjoyed the artist’s pictures ‘up close and personal’ in their range of characters and quality.

Rosie’s talk at Colwall focused, as it ‘said on the tin’, on portraits which had been lost, destroyed or shipwrecked - an intriguing prospect which she set about explaining and demonstrating over an hour or so’s absorbing presentation.

Portraits lost included several works recorded in the posthumous sales of hundreds of her paintings after her death in 1970, including auctions at Sotheby’s. These included tantalising images of paintings known now only in photographs, many only in black and white. Among these were portraits of the Johnson’s (Laura’s maiden name) sisters’ nurse and a female saxophone player from the USA. If these are still in existence then their locations are now unknown.

Other portraits were commissioned and apparently so violently disliked by their sitters that they destroyed them. In 1936, a portrait of a couple by the name of Pethick - Lawrence, famous suffragists, suffered this very fate. What thoughts I wonder went through their heads as they set about its deliberate destruction and how did they destroy it?
A very dramatic event in 1929 – the sinking of a ship, the ‘Manuka’, which was carrying about 200 paintings from UK to New Zealand - accounts for those pictures deemed shipwrecked. Amongst them were 6 paintings by Laura Knight (including the portrait of the Baltimore sisters, ‘Eileen and Pearl’) and some by Harold. Only 12 of the 200 pictures were recovered some from the walls of beach houses where they were washed up, presumably much to the finders’ disappointment!

An enjoyable but slightly rowdy lunch (due to the presence of a group of noisy fellow diners) was had at the Wellington pub on the Ledbury Road. Rosie, her husband, and a very young daughter, joined members of the Committee and Director of the Festival, Peter Smith, for a meal before heading back to London. We hope that Rosie will return and give us another stimulating talk one day soon?

Stan Little Dec 2014