Laura Knight

British, b.1877, d.1970

Les Sylphides From The Back Of The Stage

  • 1920
  • Watercolour
  • Presented by the Canterbury Society of Arts and a group of Christchurch citizens, 1935
  • 444 x 558mm
  • 69/566

Laura Knight, despite growing up in a family with little money, received a good education at the Nottingham School of Art in England, where her mother taught. Knight became interested in entertainers after attending the Nottingham Goose Fair as a child. Years later, while living in London, she was excited to attend the variety show at the Coliseum, where she saw ballet, singers, comedians and magicians. She soon gained permission to paint backstage. The ballerina Lydia Lopokova, who starred in the ballet Les Sylphides depicted here, offered to pose for Knight after seeing her sketches.

Knight did not like to paint still subjects, so Lopokova allowed Knight to use her dressing room as a studio so she could study her movements. Lopokova went about her usual routine while Knight drew. They were connected by a mutual respect as working women.

Knight saw the inner workings of the ballet in Lopokova’s dressing room and from watching backstage. She was enchanted by it. This fast-paced world helped the development of her drawing expertise, leading to her being able to sketch the movements of the graceful ballerinas in a few strokes.

(Leaving for Work, 2 October 2021 - 1 May 2022)

earlier labels about this work
  • Dame Laura Knight saw the ballet as an exciting subject and to understand it better she took lessons at the old Imperial Russian Ballet of St Petersburg. The ballerina Lydia Lopokova is the central subject. From behind the scenes, Knight would rapidly sketch the dancers’ graceful movements, capturing the structure of the body and what it could do in dance. This was a very popular decorative image and style in English homes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Knight began to explore the ballet as a subject during the period following the First World War. Dame Laura Knight was educated in both England and France and studied art at the Nottingham School of Art and the Royal College of Art. She exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1903. She married Harold Knight (1874 -1961), also an artist, and they lived in London and Newlyn, Cornwall.