In the spring of 1914, Laura Knight was introduced to Barry Jackson (1879-1961), a Birmingham architect who had recently built a theatre and founded a repertory company in the city. Jackson and she became friends and when in 1929 he established the Malvern Festival, she and Harold joined a distinguished company of writers, musicians and artists each summer. They often stayed close by at the Park Hotel in the village of Colwall just inside the Herefordshire border. Recreation for the assorted intellectuals and actors included donkey rides over the Malvern Hills from the Iron Age British Camp above the village. Here they encountered Alice Betteridge, an eccentric local who rented her pony, Kitty, and two donkeys to tourists.
Knight is known to have painted at least two versions of this group - Kitty and her Donkeys (sold Christie's, 15 December 2010, lot 116) and the present work.
She formed a special affection for the horse, recalling that at twenty-one, and with poor teeth, she was past her best. The canvases featuring Kitty, her donkeys and her mistress, along with others of the period, lack the spectral colour of Knight's earlier work, exemplifying the artist's belief in the thirties that the more restricted the palette, 'the more consistent and harmonious your picture will be'.
We are grateful to John Croft, F.C.A., the artist's great nephew, for his help in researching this picture, which will appear in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Dame Laura Knight.