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Welcome to the Wonderful Circus of Dame Laura Knight!

Dame Laura Knight, Under The Big Top, private collection

Women Artists

Welcome to the Wonderful Circus of Dame Laura Knight!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, the DailyArt Magazine proudly takes each of you for a lovely ride in the circus. And no, we’re not talking about ‘a’ circus. Today, you will meet the incredible circus of Dame Laura Knight. Join us for this fun experience and you’ll never see any circus the same way again. Ready?

Circus of Laura Knight

Dame Laura Knight, Charivari (also known as The Grand Parade), 1929. Newport Museum & Art Gallery. © Dame Laura Knight

But first, a few words about our star: Laura Knight was an excellent portraitist born in England on August 4, 1877. Most of Laura’s works are genre paintings about theaters, dance companies and, of course, circuses for which she received a lot of recognition.

However, she had a difficult childhood: she was abandoned by her father and lost her mother to cancer when she was a teenager. However, Laura kept on studying art, thanks to a scholarship she obtained from a museum. And it is thanks to this scholarship that she met her future husband, Harold Knight. Like Georgina and Lucílio de Albuquerque, Harold and Laura admired each other’s works, then became friends to eventually fall in love and marry. It seems that schools of art are good at matching people, aren’t they? By the way, did I mention that Laura was a dame? Dame is a female equivalent of a sir, title attributed to who receives medals from the orders of cavalry in the United Kingdom. Yes, Laura was a wonderful woman!

Circus of Dame Laura Knight

Dame Laura Knight, Self Portrait, 1913, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. © Dame Laura Knight

Around 1920, Laura met in West London the famous Bertram Mills Circus. She had already painted several theater scenes and famous ballet companies before and was enchanted by the circus atmosphere. In Circus Matinee (below), she presents the company getting ready, documenting the moment when the acrobat (in red) talks to the dancer and the clown. Notice the relaxed poses of the three colleagues who are talking. The painting here serves to remind the audience that there is more to the circus artists, that they are also human beings who strive to amuse others. Laura captured it like nobody else. It’s such a beautiful work in which even the horses are shown with magnificent beauty.

Circus of Dame Laura Knight

Dame Laura Knight. Circus Matinee, c. 1938. Pannett Art Gallery, Whitby. © Dame Laura Knight

Nowadays it is not so common for circuses to have animals, but at the time when Laura lived with Circo Mills, this was common. Their presence did not escape the trained eyes of the artist who portrayed them in many of her works. She especially likes a horse called Hassan, he appeared in many of Laura’s paintings, for example, Elsie on Hassan (below). The girl in the painting, Elsie Scott, was a circus equestrian.

Circus of Dame Laura Knight

Dame Laura Knight, Elsie on Hassan, 1929. Castle Museum, Nottingham. © Dame Laura Knight

Laura liked to portray moments in which the circus performers were just people like any other. In The Three Clowns she portrays artists Mills, Marba and Joe Bert who were recurring characters from Laura’s circus. In A Musical Clown the artist shows the couple Bento – he is a clown, she is a dancer. What are these characters talking about? What would the everyday affairs behind the scenes of a circus be like? Laura sets us free to imagine.

Laura Knight Circus

Dame Laura Knight, Left: The Three Clowns, 1930, Leicester City Museum & Art Gallery. Right: A Musical Clown, 1929. Harris Museum & Art Gallery. © Dame Laura Knight.

The artist, however, did not just portray the behind-the-scenes of the enchanting circus world. She also portrayed the breath-taking shows. In the beautiful The Trick Act (below), she shows a horse rider surrounded by vibrant colors and the full audience. Laura perfectly captures all the energy of the circus show, just as she captured its mundane everyday details.

Circus of Dame Laura Knight

Dame Laura Knight, The Trick Act, c.1930. Rochdale Art Gallery. © Dame Laura Knight.

Laura died in July 1970.  She was the first woman to be elected at the Royal Academy in 1927 and was the president of the Women’s Artists Society in 1932. Laura achieved recognition, won awards, but most important of all: she portrayed the artistic spirit of her time and did it admirably well.

She also continually exhibited and documented on canvas the crucial events of her era, like the Nuremberg Trials. Choosing one aspect of Laura’s work to show you today was very difficult, but it was a delightful task. Personally, I like to see artists portraying artists, but if you want to know more about the work of Dame Laura, I suggest you visit the official website where the biography and works are available. Let yourself be enchanted by this woman, this wonderful woman.

Find out more:


Dive Into The World Of Alexander Calder’s Circus

Carousels, Roundabouts, Merry-Go-Rounds in Art…All the Fun of the Fair

Someone who believes, through reading and intuition, that the history of art is the true history of humanity. In love with Renaissance art and a huge fan of the Impressionists.


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