Attention to Detail

Winifred Knights, The front door of Line Holt Farm House

By Andrew Lambeth

Winifred Knights (1899 – 1947) was a painter of rare clarity. In her short life (tragically curtailed by a brain tumour) she was responsible for only seven major paintings, cool and stylised perhaps, but extraordinarily effective (see “Landscape with Tennis Court”). She was an assured technician, making many preparatory drawings before embarking on a large composition. Whilst living in Italy during her Rome scholarship she frequently made landscape studies in triplicate: a drawing, followed by an outline on tracing paper, and finally a colour study. In 1920 she was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, with a very contemporary interpretation of “The Deluge”, now in the Tate. “The Deluge” is the reverse of spontaneous and experimental, yet it still manages to be inventive and original. The Rome Prize was awarded in the category of “decorative panting”, a genre ill-defined at the time and virtually unknown today. Yet a number of masterpieces were produced in this neglected vein, notably by Stanley Spencer and Knights herself. Murals were a favoured mode of execution, mirroring the fact that the subject matter was removed from everyday life and given a classical or primitive treatment. All this was very much in the wake of one artist, the great Frenchman Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 – 98), although a trace of Piero della Francesca was often discernible That it was by no means a moribund tradition is demonstrated by this impressive show of her work (paintings with a number of drawings and exquisite oil studies), in all its freshness, idiosyncrasy and glorious attention to detail.

The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1. To August 1st