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Harold Knight, R.A. (1874-1961)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Harold Knight, R.A. (1874-1961)

Portrait of Florence

Details
Harold Knight, R.A. (1874-1961)
Portrait of Florence
signed 'Harold Knight' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.)
circa 1909-1910
Provenance
Gilbert Evans, and by descent to the present owner.
Exhibited
London, Barbican Art Gallery, Painting in Newlyn 1880-1930, July - September 1985, no. 152.
Penzance, Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Summer in February, March - June 2013.
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

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Lot Essay

Throughout the Edwardian period, portrait painting was overhauled. The static poses and formulaic face-painting of the Victorians gave way to animation and the expression of character on-the-move. As a consequence, the painter’s processes speeded up, to the point where international stars such as John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini were described pejoratively as purveyors of ‘fashionable flic-flac’. The sense that a subject has been seized from life’s continuum became one of the essential criteria of a good portrait. In his dramatic profile of Florence Edith Carter-Wood, Harold Knight measures himself against his illustrious international peers. Not only does this modish subject recall the most striking contemporary profiles, it also looks back beyond the Victorians to such important precedents as Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Mrs Mary Robinson.

Knight’s discarded Academy-piece of 1911, The Sonnet, declares the context (fig. 1). From surviving contemporary illustrations, this canvas shows the mercurial Alfred Munnings reading to Carter-Wood on a sunny afternoon in the presence of Laura Knight and two of the artists’ models. It was the subject of a major re-discovery by Christie’s in 2009, when a large version of the Munnings figure was found under one of Laura Knight’s early ballet paintings – indicating the complex ménage that emerged at Lamorna Cove in that year.

The story of Carter-Wood’s disastrous marriage and tragic death is well-rehearsed, becoming the subject of Jonathan Smith's novel Summer in February (1995) and the subsequent film. When not in pursuit of the Zennor hunt, Munnings was in demand elsewhere, travelling up and down to London and Suffolk after their marriage. Florence, left in Cornwall, was neglected. Her friendship with a young captain in the Monmouthshire Regiment, Gilbert Evans, drew closer in these years – to the point in April 1914 when he realized the potential seriousness of their growing affection and decided that his only recourse was to leave England by joining a Royal Engineers Survey of Nigeria. Amid suspicions that she was pregnant by Gilbert, she took her own life on 24 July 1914.

From the moment she entered the Knight’s circle at Lamorna, Carter-Wood, known as ‘Blote’, was a favourite model for both Harold and Laura Knight. She and Laura had already posed for Harold’s Afternoon Tea, 1910 (Private Collection), and among other works, she re-appears prominently in Laura’s The Flower, 1912 (Private Collection), as well as in paintings by Munnings. However the present canvas, a harmony in blue, remains the most sympathetic rendering of the beautiful young art student in happy times as she addresses her unseen friends.

In 1910 with his cynicism showing, Walter Sickert analysed the current trend in portraits of women. ‘She consists of three parts’, he declared,’ The chief is a ravishing hat, for the description of which I must refer you to abler, more sach verständig pens. A little face, for the description of which I am forced into French – mousseu, frimouse, binette…The place that is filled in works of art by the obscenity called the body, is replaced by a perpendicular cascade of chiffon on which gleams an occasional gem…’ The present canvas could almost fit the formula, but this is no frimousse. Knight was too phlegmatic to cast Carter-Wood as a coquette, and she was more than a model. And magnificent though her hat may be, her independent spirit, later engulfed by emotional conflict, rises above Sickert’s accoutrements. Even the harmony of her ensemble pales before such an earnest and appealing personality in the flower of her youth.
KMc.

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