Lot 12
  • 12

Dame Laura Knight, R.A., R.W.S.

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Dame Laura Knight, R.A., R.W.S.
  • Marsh Mallows
  • signed Laura Knight (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 30 1/4 by 25 1/4 in.
  • 76.8 by 64.1 cm


Sir William Hesketh Lever, Lord Leverhulme (by 1916)
Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, United Kingdom (bequeathed from the above circa 1922 and sold, Christie's, London, June 6, 1958, lot 134)
The Fine Art Society, London (acquired at the above sale)
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Private Collection (by descent from the above and sold, Sotheby's, London, December 1, 1999, lot 22, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale


London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1915, no. 74
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition of Modern Art, 1916, no. 977 (lent by Lord Leverhulme)
Glasgow, Royal Institute of Fine Arts, Annual Exhibition, 1917, no. 222


Colour, 1917, illustrated on the front cover
Edward Morris, Victorian and Edwardian Paintings in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, London, 1994, Appendix 2, p. 132, no. WHL2168
Sara Gray, The Dictionary of British Women Artists, Cambridge, 2009, p. 164


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in excellent condition. The canvas is unlined. The paint layer seems to be dirty and may have never been cleaned. No retouches are apparent. Some unevenness is visible under ultraviolet light in the elbow of the right arm and in the left arm, but this does not correspond to retouching. The work should be carefully cleaned and tightened on its stretcher, but the condition is excellent overall
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In a summer garden shimmering with dazzling sunlight, a young woman gently lifts up a marsh mallow flower and dreams in languid reverie. Her beautiful profile is set against a profusion of contrasting color applied with thick, broad strokes conveying the heady atmosphere of a perfumed garden in full bloom. Brilliant sunlight illuminates her golden hair and skin with the heat of midsummer and plays sensuously over the textures of her pale dress. This masterpiece of British Impressionism was painted in 1914 at the moment when Laura Knight’s work was reaching the zenith of its maturity. It is full of vitality and joy and captures the artistic freedom that Knight felt at this period in her career – painted only a year after she exhibited her famous self-portrait with a nude model (National Portrait Gallery, London), a painting which made a forthright claim of independence and confidence as an artist and as a woman in a man’s world. Marsh Mallows was painted in Cornwall, where Laura Knight and her husband Harold were central to the artistic communities of Lamorna Cove and Newlyn between 1907 and 1918. According to their friend 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 color and sensuous gaiety" (quoted in Caroline Fox, Dame Laura Knight, Oxford, 1988, p. 28). She shrugged off the shadowy, formal style of her earlier years and embraced color, light and energy in her paintings. The pictures were not simply inspired by her new outlook on life, but seemed to emerge from it as her art pulsated with vigor. As a modern biographer has stated, "the conditions were perfect: continual sun with varying cloud effects. The models had beautiful figures, and she herself felt gloriously well and strong, ready to work from dawn to dusk" (Janet Dunbar, Laura Knight, London, 1975, p. 84). She herself wrote forty years later of her time in Cornwall, "Daring grew, I would work only in my own way. An even greater freedom came – glorious sensation, promise for a future when anything might be attempted… an ebullient vitality made me want to paint the whole world and say how glorious it was to be young and strong and able to splash with paint… without stint of materials ore oneself, the result of a year or two of vigor and enjoyment" (Laura Knight, Oil Paint and Grease Paint, London, 1936, p. 169-86).

World War I had begun but its horrors had not yet revealed themselves. However government censorship regarding the depiction of the British coast meant that Knight could no longer paint the cliff-paths and sweeping ocean views that she had previously and she took her canvases and inspiration closer to home. In her back garden at St. Buryan she painted this intimate and poignant image of blooming, golden womanhood.

The model for Marsh Mallows and another contemporary portrait Rose and Gold (1914, Private Collection) was a beautiful red-haired Irish girl, "Dolly" Dorothy Eileen Henry (or O’Henry), lover of the artist John Currie. Currie had been a promising student of the Slade School of Fine Art during a particularly fertile period in its history and counted Augustus John, C.W.R. Nevinson, Mark Gertler, Jacob Epstein and Frank Dobson among his friends. Dolly and Currie met in 1911 when she was working as a clothes model at a Regent Street shop. Currie abandoned his wife and young son and embarked on a tempestuous affair with Dolly but by 1914 their relationship had become abusive and she left him and fled London. Seeking sanctuary and a new life she made her way to the community of artists living in Cornwall and in her autobiography Knight recalled first meeting her: "On returning home we found a model waiting in our garden. She looked herself a sunflower amongst the sunflowers. I engaged her at once" (Knight, p. 203).