Dating from 1914, this masterpiece of British Impressionism dates from the most fertile period of Knight's career, just as her style was reaching its maturity. It was painted in Cornwall where she and her husband lived between 1907 and 1918, and where, with her natural high spirits, Laura was central to the artistic communities in Newlyn and Lamorna Cove. According to Norman Garstin, the move to Cornwall from Staithes precipitated in the work of both husband and wife 'an utter change in both their outlook and method: they at once plunged into a riot of brilliant sunshine of opulent colour and sensuous gaiety'.
Nowhere is this better expressed than in the present work, and a related picture, Marsh Mallows, which was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery of 1915, no. 74, and which subsequently entered the collection of Lord Leverhulme. It was sold at Sotheby's, London, 1 December 1999, lot 22. Both depict the same model, her head bathed in sunshine, pictured against a profusion of flowers. In her autobiography, Oil Paint and Grease Paint, p. 203, the artist recalled her sitter, and how she became the tragic victim of a crime of passion. 'On returning home we found a model waiting in our garden. She looked herself a sunflower amongst the sunflowers. I engaged her at once. While we were working she told me of her terror of a painter called Curry, staying in Newlyn - "I know he is going to try and kill me again; he has tried to do so before", she said, and I thought she was talking sensational nonsense ... A few weeks later we read in the daily paper of a murder sensation - Curry had found her - shot her and shot himself; both were dead'.
The picture was included in the artist's exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1965, only the sixth living member, and the first living woman artist to be so honoured with a retrospective exhibition in the Diploma Gallery. In the introduction to the catalogue William Russell Flint wrote: 'If we consider the careers of women artists throughout the centuries, it soon becomes plain that Laura Knight surpasses them all in sheer variety of achievement. Where, in the boundless field of art, has any woman - or how many men - shown such a wide range? Strength, tenderness, quick enriching sympathy: these are hers in overflowing measure. She has used them all with inspiration and enduring courage and they have bought her a rare degree of authority and fame'.
We are grateful to R. John Croft, the artist's great nephew, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry. The picture will be featured in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.