01 Work, Interpretation of the bible, Winifred Knights’ The Deluge, with Footnotes — #193

You can see Noah’s Ark in the distant right while figures in the foreground scramble for higher ground. Steely gray water fills up the scene and dulls the landscape; keep in mind that this was painted shortly after the end of the First World War when Britain was still recovering. Art historian Georgina Coburn writes that “Place this painting anywhere in the world today and it would be understood through the prism of religion, wars, displacement of people or the truth of climate change. It’s a stunningly faithful rendering of a universal human narrative, piercingly relevant in the present.” More on this painting

Among the ‘present-day men and women’ was Knights herself, who appears as the woman at centre right in the foreground. Her mother also modelled for the woman carrying a baby, while Knights’s friend, the artist Arnold Mason (1885–1963), posed for the male figure beside her and the man running up the hill. Placing herself in the landscape was a practical solution by which Knights could save time and money, although it may have had wider significance. More on this painting

Winifred Margaret Knights (1899–1947) was born on 5 June 1899 in Streatham. From 1912, Knights attended James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich where she showed an early artistic talent. She pursued formal art training at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1915–17 and again from 1918–20, under the tutelage of Henry Tonks and Fred Brown. During World War One, Knights was traumatised after witnessing the Silvertown explosion at a TNT processing works in January 1917, which led to a break in her studies where she would take refuge at her father’s cousins’ farm in Worcestershire.

At the end of the War, returning to the Slade, Knights began to draw upon personal themes. In 1919, Knights won the Slade Summer Composition Prize for Mill Hands on Strike. The following year she became the first woman in England to win the prestigious Scholarship in Decorative Painting awarded by the British School at Rome. In 1920 she moved to Italy to complete her scholarship. In 1922, the Tate purchased an Italian landscape painted by Knights. She remained in Rome from 1920 to 1925. The relationship with Mason ended and she married fellow Rome Scholar Thomas Monnington on 23 April 1924. Her first major work in Rome, The Marriage at Cana, was completed in 1923.

Knights returned to the Slade in the years 1926–27 and exhibited at both the Imperial Gallery in Kensington and the Duveen Gallery. In the period 1928–33 Knights executed the altarpiece Scenes from the Life of St Martin of Tours for the Milner Memorial Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1929 Knights was elected to the New English Art Club, but never exhibited with them.

Knights died from a brain tumour in London in 1947 at the age of 47. The first major retrospective of Winifred Knights was held at Dulwich Picture Gallery from June to September 2016. More on Winifred Margaret Knights

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