Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dame Laura Knight - two paintings

[Girls Picking Flowers by the Sea]
signed l.l.: Laura Knight.

watercolour and gouache
21 1/2 by 24 in.

30,000—40,000 GBP
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 36,000 GBP

[The Ballerina, Lydia Lopokova]
signed l.l.: Laura Knight

oil on canvas
14 by 16 in.

estimate : 30,000—40,000 GBP

Lydia Lopokova was born in St Petersburg in 1892 and trained at the Imperial Ballet School. In 1910 Lydia left her homeland and joined the Diaghilev ballet, only staying with the company briefly and leaving for the United States after the summer tour concluded. She remained in America for six years before rejoining Diaghilev in 1916. She danced with the Ballets Russes and with her former partner Vaslav Nijinsky in New York and London. It was not until 1918 that she became well-known in London following the success of Good Humoured Ladies and an energetic performance with Leonide Massine in the Can-Can of La Boutique Fantasque. Lydia's first marriage to Diaghilev's business manager Randolfo Barrochi broke down in 1919 and for a short time the pretty little dancer disappeared. She was persuaded to rejoin the Diaghilev in 1921 when she danced as the Lilac Fairy and Princess Aurora in a production of The Sleeping Princess. In the 1920s she became a friend of Stravinsky, and of Picasso who drew her portrait on several occasions. It was also at this time that she became familiar with members of the Bloomsbury set and was introduced to her future husband John Maynard Keynes whom she married in 1925.

Knight met the beautiful and diminutive ballerina Lydia Lopokova around 1919, when Diaghilev's Ballets Russes returned to London and Knight was allowed to work backstage in the dressing rooms and wings of the theatre. Lydia noticed Laura sketching her one day and to Knight's discomfort asked that she might take a look at the sketch. The artist and her model agreed that the sketch was not very good and Knight was invited to visit Lydia's dressing room to study her at closer quarters. 'I wanted to watch, see things, get ideas, become familiar with all that happened. I knew it was going to take ages before I knew my subject, which was vast and held great possibilities... Soon Lopokova's quick understanding realised what was wanted. Her room should be my studio, she would never stay in any position on my account, she would go on with her make-up and dressing, standing in front of the long glass and go through positions and steps. We were both workers. There was to be no conversation; it was to be as if I did not exist. The privilege she gave me was most valuable... I sat in a corner, silent like a shadow, studying and making notes of everything that happened, from taking off the day-dress to the final fantasy.' (Laura Knight, Oil Paint and Grease Paint, 1936, p. 226) The freedom that Lydia gave to Knight to observe her in her dressing-room created several intimate paintings of life back-stage; 'In the glow of the electric bulbs her pale skin and hair were warm, turned to gold. The White tarlatan of her "Sylphides" dress filled the room, herself in it a sprite... Sweet scent of powder and grease-paint filled the air. Everything was glorious to paint; the contrast between the black-clothed dresser and the artificial brilliance, the character of the make-up table, its candle to heat the eyelash black, the white enamelled furniture and the white drugget on the floor' (ibid Knight, pp. 226-227). Knight had a particular affection and fascination with the red armchair which appears in the present painting, which she described as 'a thing of joy. Its seat bore the impress of the hundreds who had sat on it exalting in their success, they had passed on - the chair remained, extending its comforting arms to the next occupant of No. 1 Dressing-room. I was sentimental about that chair and imagined it saying, "Stars come and stars go, but I'm in the star dressing-room longer than any of them." (ibid Knight, p. 227)

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