Winifred Knights – at Dulwich picture gallery visit

on the 18th of August I visited the Dulwich picture gallery in London and saw  ‘Winifred Knights 1899-1947’ a major retrospective of a largely unknown 20th century woman artist – these are my thoughts and reflections of the exhibition

London born Winifred Knights is an artist that prior to the Dulwich show ,  I knew nothing about.

I was hoping to be enlightened and I was not disappointed. Interestingly the exhibition included lots of drawings, studies and preparatory works for  her major  paintings – which was really interesting and allowed the viewer an insight into Knights working practices as well as giving the visitors a sense of personal and  intimate thoughts .

Armed with a notebook I made notes on what I saw  – these are my notes:

Born in 1899 Knights first studied art at the age of 16, at the renowned Slade school of art in London. The first room  of the exhibition grouped together many of her drawings from the early  period of her life. One of these ‘self portrait c.1916’ a luminous pencil drawing , I really liked  particularly as she seemed to have  captured a piece of her personality  – i liked the way she  had conveyed   her direct and confident stare , she  seems to glaze at the viewer. I felt that the  early pencil  drawings seemed to show a competent use of the medium with subtle mark making and shading. There is a delicate lightness in these early drawings with fine hatching that  adds dimension. There was also an interesting drawing entitled ‘Portrait study of Joyce Knights during a thunderstorm ‘ pencil on paper dated 1918. This  drawing captures the models  face in a three quarter profile. Knights used  delicate parrellel hatching which was  popular at the Slade that had been introduced by a former professor called Alphonse Legor. This style of drawing seems to add a real sense of drama and structure to the planes of the face. I felt the drawing had  a quiet and emotive feel. There was a larger figure drawing ‘full-length  female seated nude , three quarter view 1917 ‘ that I thought was interesting. Again a really good example of how to use  pencil  marks to build up  light and form, the drawing demonstrates Knights fine draughtsmanship  skills and her precise use of delicately applied hatching – with  this drawing Knights  was awarded a first class certificate.

Winifred Knights was  initially intending to study to become an illustrater and there were  some  excellent examples of her illustrative work including ‘Little Miss Muffet’ a stylised self portrait with many strong design elements including vertical and horizontal stripes as well as an interesting elongated neck and long thin hands adding a sense of drama and atmosphere to the composition . During this period at the Slade students were taught to draw with the intention to develope strong compositions. Knights was tutored by Tonks and Derwent Lees. For two years she worked almost solely on figure drawing. During the early stages of World War One Winifred Knights had a nervous breakdown and left the Slade to recuperate at a family farm in Worcestershire. It was during this time in 1917 that she met socialist philosopher Edward Carpenter. Carpenter greatly influenced Knights and she moved away from illustration becoming instead concerned with scenes of rural life. In 1918 she joined her family in rural West Sussex – producing work that was far removed from what was happening in the war. I feel that these pictures have an almost visionary quality to them. The pictures have an almost peaceful sense of harmony – the colours are muted and soft.  The people in these works seem , to work together sharing a comradship regardless of their social postitions, working together in unison. Knights included local buildings and scenery building up a fascinating picture of an almost rural idyll away from the harsh nature of the war. Some of this work during this period  is remarkably  ambitious including some detailed and interesting studies for a wall decoration – it was interesting to see the preparatory works which included detailed squared up colour studies. Also on show was an inquisitive pencil drawing ‘Eileen November 1918’  she perfectly captures the delicate contours of her sisters face using careful shading that successfully conveys the subtle  lights and darks of the facial features. Also fascinating in a glass cabinet was displayed a selection of Knights sketchbooks including one for ornamental design and  one for anatomy studies.

SECOND ROOM – the Slade 1918-1919

Knights style has now envolved and she is now focusing on meticulous composition a discipline she appears to have excelled  at. She won the prestigious summer composition prize in 1919 with ‘ a scene in a village with Mill hands conversing’ I think it is an interesting painting with lots of different elements including  beautifully painted figures and a busy background with buildings. I really like the shapes of the buildings and the way Knights has suggested the faraway glimpse  of the undelating curves of the hills in the background contrasting with the straight blocks of the buildings. I feel it is a very confident and competent painting  for an artist aged just  20!

also on show were a number of studies for the painting which hi light her working processes as it is very apparent that Knights spent  a lot of time  planning her major works.

ROOM three

In room three  were some very interesting self portraits I particularly liked a drawing from 1920 that demonstrates her drawing skills as the medium used is silver point,  a very difficult drawing tool. The exhibition curators state ” natural extension of Knights interest in Renaissance drawing , the technique requires precise craftsmanship to allow for the subtle rendition of light and shade” ( source Dulwich picture gallery).  Also interesting is ‘self portrait with compositional figure study 1919 ‘ the medium is pencil but what i thought  was interesting is that the drawing seemed fairly experimental . The head and facial features of the figure are developed with Knights usual style of hatching to capture tone, light and form however the body and costume of the figure is very loose and sketchy  rendered with no tone or hatching . to the  the right of the figure , on the wall like a framed picture is a squared up compositional study of a rural scene.  Also interesting is a oil painting from 1920 entitled ‘Life study Eileen Knights. ‘ The young model is painted nude and Knights has captured her sisters youthful adolescent awkwardness, the teenager appears to have a sulky expression on her face, the contours of her body suggests an uneasy gawkiness. The colours are again on the neutral spectrum reminding  me of the palette used by another British woman artist and former Slade student –  Gwen John. Also on show were a variety of works produced for the Slade sketch club that explored compostition. I really liked the small coastal landscapes in oil depicting Beer in Devon. Although the two small paintings at first look very simple in nature and style they are beautifully executed particularly the way she uses composition and colour.

FOURTH – room

I found this room very interesting as it showed the direction that Winifred Knights had gone in her artistic career once she had left the Slade. In 1920 she had become the first woman to win the prestigious scholarship in decorative painting. The four selected finalists were tasked with producing a painting and cartoon in an eight week period. The set theme was “the deluge”. This room documented the sheer hard work that had gone into the competition. The large canvas painting ” the deluge 1920″ I thought was extremely powerful, very visual and visionary in its timelessness as although inspired  by the Biblical scene of the great flood and the ark the figures clothing and their features seem very modern. The  very angular figures almost appear to be dancing in formation with their strange stances and outstretched arms. It was easy to spot A self portrait of Winifred Knights within the painting in the foreground. The composition is  striking and is filled with interesting shapes , with a lively perspective and good use of negative spaces. The dance like movement of the panicking figures reminded me of  the moving figures produced by members the  “vorticist ” artistic movement?  Knights also  used members of her family as models for ‘the deluge’ ” the biblical flood was often used as a metaphor for World War One ” ( source Dulwich picture gallery)

also on display was a large cartoon in pencil squared. Although a study the facial features of the figures are beautifully rendered with her fine use of shading. There was also another working cartoon which was used to add the essential forms of the elaborate compostition onto the canvas , this study had less shading but instead seemed more concerned with shapes. There were 3 other small pencil sketches of “the deluge ” and 2 colour studies one with watercolour as the chosen medium, the other oil over pencil sketching in loosely the colours for the background of the painting. It was fascinating to experience how Knights worked and her thought processes , and  remarkable  to remember she was still only 21.

FIFTH ROOM – the British school

Winifred Knights won a scholarship to spend three years working in Italy. The scholarship artists  were required to study and produce large paintings essentially focusing on composition.

‘the marriage of cana’ a large oil painting dated 1923 I thought was very exciting and mesmerising with an interesting composition I counted around 35 figures in the painting .  The setting of the tables laid with white cloths I found fascinating and the direct facial expressions were powerful and emotive. The carefully painted trees seem to be posed and appear to frame the story of a elaborate theatrical marriage ,  the trees revealing a tableau like scene almost acting the role of stage curtains pulled back to reveal the scene. Again Knights colour palette is largely neutral in tone with a sense of peaceful harmony. It appears like a happy scene. My eye was particularly drawn to the table off scene just glimpsed though a square like building structure. The composition is very balanced with strong vertical and horizontal lines. The whole work had a serene quality and is very decorative and  Is clearly inspired and influenced by Italian Renaissance art. There were also examples of Knights careful preparatory studies setting  out in detail her working processes including an oil study squared up on paper , a thinned oil sketch on tracing paper that is mainly concerned with looking and plotting colour and tonal values. The last study was a  squared up sketch using wash on paper. It’s seems that at this stage in her career Winifred Knights is concerned with producing very much a narrative style of painting allowing the viewer to intrepate a  multi-layered story visually unfolding .

I liked ‘ study for Jairus daughter ‘ 1921 again inspired by a biblical story. The drawing depicted a simple bedroom with a beautiful and harmonious use of light to add depth to the drawing. There was also hanging with this another sketch ‘study of sleeping nude for Jairus daughter’ 1921 again an exquisite and delicate sketch  very reminiscent of an old master drawing. Also in this room there were some Italian landscape studies for paradise that I found interesting.

SIXTH ROOM – Italy 1924

in March 1924 after completing her scholarship Knights returned to Italy and in Rome married the Rome scholar Thomas Monnington and the couple spent some time on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Santissima Trinita near Vallepietra in Lazio. Much of the 6th  room explores the Italian work. ‘The Santissima Trinita ‘painted 1924-30 is a large powerful painting capturing the lush Italian scenery in muted yellow and green shades. I liked the vista of the mountains. The figures in the foreground look as though they have strayed from a Renaissance painting, the folds  of their flowing robes are minutely observed, The composition is again planned and harmonious and Knights includes a banner that is painted with precise and minute detailed brushstrokes. Although the painting has a stillness to it with the languishing relaxed figures  there is a sense of  the texture in the way she had painted the grass and haystacks  that appears to suggest movement. I thought it was a very relaxing painting imbued with symbolism.  Another large painting also stood out ‘ Edge of Abruzzi boat with three people on a lake 1924-30’ this work is inspired by the legend of Melusine , Monnington, Knights and a male friend are depicted in the boat – their expressions suggest a reflective mood , again the Italian landscape features in the picture. Also on show are several interesting landscape and  mountain studies  using a variety of drawing mediums including pencil and thinned oil , also some pencil figure studies for the Santissima painting – again demonstrating Knights  very precise and ordered working processes.


The final room focused on Knights later work including a number of sketches and preparatory drawings on tracing paper, looking primarily at the composition for a work called ” scenes from the life of Saint Martin of Tours c.1929″ . This work is again inspired by medieval art and mythology  and some of the drawings reminded me of the watercolours illustrations that the Pre-raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti produced during the nineteenth century as his response to the work of the medieval poet Dante. Some of Knights studies in this room seem much sketchier and looser than much of her earlier work. But I still thought that they  still manage to  skilfully record  light , shapes, form and some colour , there were also some interesting pencil studies including ” study of a tree in winter” 1929 I particularly liked the way Knights had explored the entwined branches.  Also of note ” study of an angel for scenes from the life of Saint Martin c.1933 – a pencil drawing. The Angel   has a fragile look with an almost unintelligible unworldly  look that reminded me of a Raphael face. Also interesting are two large Cartoons for ” scenes of Saint Martin” one was a full sized drawing made to plot the placing of the figures , the vanishing point directs the viewer up to the landscape  beyond the main Narrative section  of the art  work. There was another delicate drawing inspired by Piero Della Francesca.

Winifred Knights died  suddenly of a brain tumour aged just 47, and her work disappeared from the public eye – much of her work appears to be in private collections. I left the exhibition wondering what may have been if Knights had not died?



I really enjoyed the show particularly the way the curators had chosen to include many of the drawings and preparatory studies relating to the major works – it provided a fascinating insight on how Winifred Knights  worked and also provided clues to her thinking processes and how artists were trained during the last century. I was also stuck by her energy , her  sheer hard work and her passion for her art and Italy.  I liked Her obvious draftsmanship  skills -how she  managed to explore composition and perspective. I liked her use of delicate mark making and how she managed  in her many portrait drawings and  studies to capture a sense of the personality of her sitter. However I feel that Knights large oil paintings although interesting lacked the spark of her luminous  drawings,particularly the flattered forms of her  figures who I felt seemed too stilted , stiff and angular. But I did fell that show was helpful to me and that I learnt many things that I could explore on my own artistic studies  and

I came away totally inspired about pursuing my own creative journey.

Interestingly there was a small display of work done by young  teenaged artists on a display in a public gallery space  . These works were a response to the Winfred Knights  exhibition  – the artists have taken Knights  themes but added a modern twist and  slant, it was a fascinating to see the young people’s ideas , and it was definitely  interesting and worth looking at as a response to Knights work.







Drawing one – part 5 – personal project – self portrait final drawing

After doing  my charcoal  self portrait drawing i visited the Winifred Knights show at the Dulwich picture gallery. The show  included several self portrait drawings – and despite the delicate drawing style i was very impressed with the way Knights with very careful fine cross hatching was able to  convey the  form and structure of her face. The drawings are very intricate and beautiful. I have also been looking  at Comtempory artists Jenny Saville and Ariane Laroux. I have been focusing on Jenny Saville’s recent drawings which are her response to Renaissance master drawings and  very different in feeling to her body image works.. Ariane Laroux uses feathery marks to suggest facial features building up her marks to add dimension to then facial features  particularly the eyes. For my coloured pencil drawing  I  tried to include some inspiration from the art that I have been looking at. I used  the coloured pencils on red toned pastel paper. I build up the layers of colours careful to define light and tone . Using the pencils I was able to   – like Ariane Laroux make careful  decisions on what to include in my drawing leaving areas of my paper bare  to add contrast to the shadows on the nose and eyes –  I feel pleased with my effort and feel that I have make a lot of progress  – I feel that I have learn a lot about drawing faces and I feel more confident about exploring self portaiture again. I am especially pleased with how I have captured the nostrils  of my nose- the facial feature I find most challenging. Although is was not my intention to capture a likeness , this drawing is a very good  likeness of my face and facial features.image

Drawing one – part 5 – personal project – final pieces on self portraits

For my final pieces on self portraits- I did two final drawings. The first drawing I used grey heavy paper as the support  I used charcoal and white chalk as my drawing medium.  This drawing I did at night time with a torch as the only light source there was very little light in the room so it was a challenge  –  the whites of my eyes and part of my  of hair were the lightest tones and appeared almost to glow. I used willow charcoal and compressed charcoal  as well as charcoal pencils as a hi-lighter . I Also used a putty rubber to lift out  areas of tone. I also left all my  drawing imageerrors on the page as I was keen to show my working process. Overall I quite like elements of my drawing although it looks slightly dark but I feel that this is a fair representation of the tones. The areas that I am confident about in my drawing is the month is looks although it has been drawn clumsily – I think I may have over worked it. I think that it may have better if I had used a lighter tone of paper ?

Drawing one -assignment 5 – final project self Portrait drawing – sketches on paper

after using my sketch book I did some A3 sketches 2 on white cartridge paper using a graphite stick and a sketch on coloured paper using watercolour pencils and watercolour washes. I feel that the coloured drawing is very weak and too static – and lacks substance and it lacks structure and form and I think the facial features are poorly drawn. The graphite sketch using looser marks works fairly well and I think that I have captured a sense of movement however I feel the drawing may be a little too loose and I probably need to take more care with my drawing. The other pencil sketch is so-so  the hair works well but the eyes are poorly drawn.but I feel I am starting to make some positive process.

Drawing one – assignment 5 – more self portrait drawings

after doing my initial sketches – I went on the further explore my face using different mediums-  I did a drawing using ink wash and using marks to add volume inspired by ‘Henry Moore’ I also explored collage using torn paper and explored some techniques taking inspiration from Henry Moore’s ‘ shelter drawings’ wax crayon , ink and graphite which was really challenging as the wax crayon made the surface of my drawing very greasy. I still feel that I need to solve many of my weaknesses in drawing portraits.

Drawing one – assignment 5 – final assignment personal project – exploring the structure & form of the figure – self portrait

I found exploring self portraiture very challenging and I have struggled with it. I found drawing my own face very difficult and not something I enjoy – so I was determined to really try and produce some work that I feel happy with. I was also determined to explore structure and form to add dimension to my drawing but also to inject an element of creativity to this project. I am not concerned with capturing an perfect likeness but to capture an essence of my personality.   I spend a couple of weeks experimenting with basic drawings of my face using line and tone in my sketchbook  – I used  graphite pencil, marker pens, coloured pencil, and wash. I was chiefly concerned with  Looking at shapes, forms and tonal values. I found drawing the nose the most challenging and I also struggled with  trying conveying a sense of

movement to my sketches. I looked at mark making and lines. I was looking at capturing the blocks and planes of my facial structure

Drawing one part 5 – personal project – final piece life drawing

for  one of my final pieces  I want to explore life drawing. I am looking to convey form and structure to the drawing by using drawing techniques such as gestural mark making to add dimensional form to my drawings. I wanted to create solidity and a sense of presence. I started by doing some 3 minute sketches of quick poses using willow charcoal sticks – quickly capturing the shapes of the body using lines. I tried to be economical with the line as I was chiefly  concerned with capturing the shapes  I think the drawings work fairly  well I feel that that i  have captured the form of the model  and the curves and shapes of her body , I was careful to note the models   petite frame and  tiny waist. Her legs in comparison were short and fairly muscular. After doing the quick poses I did two longer poses of one hour each. This time my model is  seated on a small wooden table covered with a heavy piece of dark coloured cloth. The pose I chose is looking full on. She has her legs tucked up with her arms supporting the stance of the pose. This pose perfectly  emphasised her small waist and narrow shoulders. I found her foreshortened legs quite challenging. I did one drawing using charcoal and the other drawing using soft pastels. For the pastel drawing I choose pinks, reds and blue tones  as I wanted to convey the feeling that she has red blood pumping around the models body and I also wanted to convey a sense of the muscular make up of her body.  I carefully layered the colours to establish the tones taking care to look at the light and dark areas. For  my  charcoal  drawing I also drew the heavy folds of the cloth on the table as I wanted to capture the darkness and dense tones of the material against the soft texture of her body. I was fairly pleased with the finished drawings as I feel that they do convey structure, form and feeling. My only regret is there are no more life drawing classes until the middle of September!

Below are my three quick drawings.

Drawing one part 5. -the written element – my artists statement


When I started my studies with the Open college of the arts – I began a new journey hoping to explore my creativity , it has been for me an exciting experience. I   am now  filled with a sense of wonder as doors are beginning to open for me. I am now starting to seek clarity about what inspires me to draw, what excites me and why I want to draw . I have a long way to go on my journey – but I do believe  that drawing is the  purest and most exciting  art form, with a lot of possibilities ,  Although i do feel  the importance of drawing is  often overlooked . This is my artists statement from where I am now at this stage of my artistic development.

What has always fascinated me and continues to stir me is the very essence of the drawing process. How a simple inexpensive drawing tool such as a pencil or a stick of charcoal is able to bring magically to life a subject , how an artist is able to analysis and then reproduce the image. A flat one dimensional piece of paper can  become multi dimensional, textural , emotive and alive. An illusion can be brought to germination by Using fairly simple techniques such as mark making applied on  the paper. Lines and tone can add interest to a drawing. It is this element of drawing that I want to explore i am looking towards breathing  life into my drawing. I feel that to be able to draw the human figure it is essential that I attempt to understand it – when i worked  on a figure drawing using charcoal for assignment 4 I found myself becoming  very aware of how the form of my model  had the ability to change her surroundings – how by reclining in an armchair she essentially changed the shape of the chair, becoming a part of the very fabric of the chair. From this awareness I found myself becoming interested in capturing the  shape of the model and of her surrounding  environment to build form and add a solid physical strength and structure to the body.  I want to explore the figure by looking at how  Negative spaces  add interest to the composition . I will also use  foreshortening as an interesting drawing device. I am interested in how different artists achieve structure to their figure drawings and I will be looking at and analysing drawings by Henry Moore, Frank Auerbach and Jenny Saville. As  I particularly like the way these three artists are not necessarily concerned with capturing a likeness but instead are concerned with  conveying the physical make up of the human form.

For my final pieces I want to achieve a sense of a 3 D form to my figure drawings to experiment with  gestural mark making , tone and lighting to add atmosphere and feeling . I have struggled previously with some of the technical elements of figure composition such as fitting the whole body onto my paper, these issues i will be attempting to resolve . I am also looking at adding a sense of drama by exploring short exciting poses using a life model. I also want to revisit self portraiture a discipline  that I find very challenging – but  for my personal project i  want to focus on the structure of my facial features rather than concern myself with capturing a likeness. I want to convey how the human body which is comprised of 60% water , a complex skeletal structure , internal organs , fat and muscle can translate into a drawing with the use of clever marks and drawing mediums.
Finally I am hoping to achieve an understanding of how the basic elements of drawing using  basic techniques can strengthen my drawing skills so that I can take something from this project onto the next stage of my studies.

drawing one – part 5 – the personal project – finding a subject

After looking though my work and assessing my work I then Needed to make a decision on finding a subject to explore.

After much reflection this is my final decision

Looking though all the work that I produced in the four units that make up drawing one – I carefully looked at all the themes and decided to focus on the human figure for my personal project. I have decided to focus on exploring different elements such as the self portrait which I had found a challenge in unit four, the figure including life drawing.

SUBJECT – the focus is on structure of the human figure

MATERIALS – I will be exploring using drawing mediums to convey the structure of the human form looking at mark making to add dimension

FORMAT – this will depend on the proportions but it is likely that I will be using both  landscape and portrait Format

SUPPORT – this will be paper but I will also look at using textured and coloured paper.

COMPOSITION – I am looking at capturing drama , movement by using some interesting poses including short poses in life drawing. I will work had to fit the whole body onto my paper. I am looking to exploring a dramatic self portrait rather exploring structure rather than a tradition style portrait

MOOD  –  I am aiming for drama and atmosphere and want to explore my relationship to my subject so will use a variety of models including my daughter.

LINE – TONE – I will be exploring line and tone but will be using tone in the final pieces.

ABSTRACT OR REALIST – I am aiming to capture a realistic form but I am also aiming to explore shapes and will explore angles and some poses may have a slightly abstract element to them. I will be looking at different lighting to add drama and atmosphere.

SIZE – I am aiming to produce A1 sized drawing for the final pieces.

FEELING –  I want my medium to convey an emotive feel to the human figure. To express solidity and weight.

BACKGROUND – I will include some of the background as it helps to suggest proportions, and a sense of the figure belonging into its environment –

SKETCHBOOKS – I now have an A4 sketchbook and I will be using it to support my ideas , to explore the human figure and to record information useful to my development as I explore my personal project


LEARNING LOG – I will use my log to record my progress   And to record my responses to my work I will also use it to look at contempory artists and to record my responses to their work and as a method of learning from them