The Show is On: Laura Knight’s Career & Contexts (Online)

Oil on canvas, Photo courtesy

Spring in Cornwall, 1916-1935, Oil on canvas, Photo courtesy Tate Images © Tate. All Rights Reserved


28 January 2022

If you would prefer to attend the event in person, please book for The Show is On: Laura Knight’s Career & Contexts.

In association with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and MK Gallery.

In 1936, Dame Laura Knight sent a large canvas depicting a backstage scene at a travelling circus, titled The Show is On, to that year’s Royal Academy (RA) Summer Exhibition. In her circus paintings, Knight focused on the suspenseful anticipation of the acrobats, dancers, strongmen and performing horses before they enter the ring, as well as the dynamic action of the performance. These paintings allude to the glamour of the performance while also focusing on the everyday interactions and realities of the lives of the performers backstage.

1936 was a big year for Knight at the RA; for her, the show was most definitely on. Earlier that year, she had been elected the first female Royal Academician since the institution’s inception in 1768. She had been elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1927 and been made a dame in 1929. Both before and after her election as an Academician, she astutely navigated and negotiated the institutions of the British art world, producing a complex body of visual and written work during her long career (1877–1970). She depicted an extraordinary range of sitters and tackled subjects that makes her practice stand out from her contemporaries.

On the occasion of the exhibition Laura Knight: A Panoramic View at MK Gallery (9 October 2021–20 February 2022) – the largest display of the artist’s works for over fifty years – this conference will present new research on Knight’s career and its contexts, both within the British art world and internationally. This event seeks to reposition Knight’s practice, and to recover those radical contributions to the histories of modern art which have often been overlooked in the effort to define her as an “academic” artist who sat comfortably within the art world establishment.

Conference Schedule

10.00–11.00 Exhibition Viewing, Laura Knight: A Panoramic View
11.00–11.30 Conference Registration
11.30–11.45 Welcome by Anthony Spira (Director, MK Gallery)

Session 1 Chaired by Sarah Victoria Turner (Deputy Director, Paul Mellon Centre)
11.45–12.05 Janet Axten (Social Historian), ‘“Fast, Smart and Outrageous”: Art School Fashion in Laura Knight’s Painting’
12.05–12.25 Linda Bassett (PhD candidate, University of Bristol), ‘The “Sew” Must Go On: The Dressmaker in the Work of Laura Knight’
12.25–12.45 Ella Nixon (PhD candidate, Northumbria University), ‘Laura Knight and the Regional Art Gallery’
12.45–13.15 Panel 1 discussion and questions
13.15–14.15 Lunch

Session 2 Chaired by Fay Blanchard (Head of Exhibitions, MK Gallery)
14.15–14.35 Lily Ford (Filmmaker and Historian), ‘Aerial Bodies: Laura Knight’s Barrage Balloon Paintings’
14.35–14.55 Catherine Wallace (Freelance Art Historian), ‘Technique and Experiment: Drawing as the Foundation of Laura Knight’s Success as an Artist’
14.55–15.15 Hannah Starkey (Artist), ‘So, I ask you Laura Knight – how did this great work come about?’
15.15–15.45 Panel 2 discussion and questions
15.45–16.00 Break

Session 3 Chaired by Annette Wickham (Curator of Works on Paper, Royal Academy of Art)
16.00–16.20 Alice Stickland (Curator, National Trust, London), ‘Creating a Legacy – Dame Laura Knight RA (1877-1970)’
16.20–16.40 Hester Westley (Artists Lives Interviewer, National Life Stories, British Library), ‘“Like a Half-Rolled Map”: Tracing the Borders of Female Self-Narration in the Careers of Laura Knight and Subsequent Women Artists’
16.40–17.10 Panel 3 discussion and questions
17.10–17.30 Damian Le Bas (Writer and Poet), ‘The Broken Tongue’
17.30–19.00 Drinks reception


We are offering up to 10 bursaries to support individuals who may not otherwise be able to attend the conference. Bursaries will cover the ticket price (including the online option), travel and some expenses including childcare. If you would like to be considered for a bursary please email us, and write ‘Laura Knight Bursary Request’ in the subject field, outlining your request for a supported place by 10am Monday 10 January 2022.

In Person Conference The Show is On Paper Abstracts