The sense of the artist perfecting his craft that Herbert Furst remarked upon in 1917 remained with Harold Knight throughout his career. His retiring personality and search for perfection was consistently evident in his work. Early on he sought sustenance from the Dutch masters, particularly in the work of Vermeer. Although he painted landscapes and portraits, single female figures in interiors became his leitmotif. Where the Dutch master frequently lit his subjects from the side, Knight preferred the added complication of contre jour. Daylight floods the room from window or balcony, casting the figure, in this case Gladys Hines, into shadow, as in A Window in St John's Wood, shown at the Royal Academy in 1932. During the early thirties Harold Knight frequently called upon Miss Hynes' services to act as a model. She was for instance, retained for On the Balcony, one of his principal exhibits of the following year.
Born at Indore in India, Gladys Hynes (1888-1958) studied painting and sculpture at the London School of Art in Earl's Court, known as 'Brangwyn's', after its principal tutor, Frank Brangwyn. There her contemporaries were Nina Hamnett, Jan Gordon and R.H. Wilenski. She was part of the floating population of female helpers at the Omega Workshops and a habitué, with Hamnett, of the Café Royal. Early in the war she moved to Newlyn with her brother, Hugh and sister, Sheilagh, and became friendly with current and former pupils of the Stanhope Forbes School - particularly Dod and Ernest Procter. With Harold Knight, the Procters and others she decorated choir stalls at Bernard Walke's church at St Hilary - in her case, painting the Cornish saint, Morwena. After the war, she appears to have returned to London, resumed her contacts with Hamnett's Bohemian circle, illustrated the early Cantos of Ezra Pound and showed at the Venice Biennale of 1924.
However it was as an elegant model that she appears in Knight's work, looking out from his studio over the gardens of St John's Wood. In the present example, the balcony rail, the table and chequerboard floor provide a strict rectilinear composition. Although she is wearing court shoes, the model's white frock suggests that she may have just returned from the neighbouring tennis courts seen in Laura Knight's Spring in St John's Wood - painted from the upstairs studio window at 9 Langford Place in the same year as On the Balcony.
The comparison is significant. Where Laura's eye flies from the window to catch a glimpse of passers-by, a stalking cat and next door's sentinel Sealyham terrier, Harold is more reserved. Trees and hedges screen out the very things that Laura wishes to see and no casual comedy will disrupt the reverie of his model. Were we to re-wind the clock to a few years before Harold's birth we would find Whistler placing his model dressed in lavish kimonos on a balcony overlooking the Thames. Two generations and a world war later, and these aesthetic seeds have migrated to suburbia.
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.