“The works that Winifred Knights produced during and since her scholarship were of exquisite quality, and the exceptional beauty of her drawings has placed her among the outstanding artists of her generation”.
The Painting Faculty of the British School at Rome, 1947
Winifred Margaret Knights was born in Streatham, London in 1899. She studied at the Slade School of Art (1915-17, 1918-20 and 1926-27) where she became a highly successful and favoured student of Henry Tonks. In 1919 she jointly won the Slade Summer Composition Competition with A Scene in a Village Street with Millhands Conversing (UCL Art Museum). In 1920, she became the first woman in England to win the prestigious Scholarship in Decorative Painting awarded by the British School at Rome. Her prize-winning entry The Deluge (Tate Gallery, London) received wide-spread critical acclaim (“the work of a genius”, Daily Graphic, 8/2/21). She remained in Italy until December 1925, marrying fellow Rome Scholar Thomas Monnington in April 1924. Her first major work in Rome, The Marriage at Cana (The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) was completed in 1923. Studies survive for a number of other compositions (Paradise, Jairus’s Daughter, Bathsheba) but it is unclear whether final versions of these paintings were ever completed. In 1924, Knights started work on Santissima Trinita (private collection) which was completed in 1930. In 1928 Knights received a commission to paint an altarpiece for the Milner Memorial Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral which she completed in 1933. She died at the age of 48 in 1947. The Flight into Egypt, a major commission for the Earl of Crawford, on which she had been working for 5 years, remained unconcluded at her death.
Although Knights' major completed works are few, her compositions were always supported by a large number of exquisite and painstaking studies on paper in pen and ink, pencil, watercolour and oil. These often included extensive colour notes and elaborate systems of squaring up for transfer.