Upcoming Events

The Show is On: Laura Knight’s Career and Contexts

Call for Papers

  • 16 August to 19 September 2021
  • Deadline 11:59 pm
  • Call for papers for a one-day conference on the work of career of artist Laura Knight. Convened by the Paul Mellon Centre and the MK Gallery (January 28 2022 in Milton Keynes)

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 Academican, 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 the 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. 

At this moment of re-examination of Knight’s work, the organisers invite proposals for 15-minute presentations that:

  • Provide new understandings of Knight’s work – this could focus on an individual work of art, or a set of objects
  • Consider her networks, friendships and legacies as an artist
  • Consider the question of style in relation to Knight’s varied painting practice, in the context of the different ways in which she produced work
  • Examine the subjects she references frequently, such as performers, the ballet, the circus and representations of work and labour
  • Present new findings about the institutional contexts in which Knight operated
  • Discuss her autobiographical writings, and think about the relationship between artists and autobiography more broadly
  • Think critically about her depictions of marginalised communities in Britain and the United States
  • Research her artistic collaborations with industry

As well as conference papers, we also encourage alternative approaches to Knight, her practice and her career. The organisers will consider proposals for pieces of creative writing, visual essays and and forms of performance.

Submission Details

Submission deadline: 23.59, Sunday 19 September 2021

  • All abstracts must be submitted and presented in English.
  • Abstracts should be based on any of the topic areas listed above, or in related areas.
  • Abstracts may not be longer than 400 words
  • Abstracts should be accompanied by a biography of approximately 100 words (please do not send CVs). 
  • Notification of acceptance of the abstracts submitted will be sent to you via email by early October
  • Presenters at the conference selected through this open call will be paid a fee of £150 for their contribution. Reasonable travel and accommodation expenses will also be provided. 

Enquiries and final submissions should be directed to Shauna Blanchfield at sblanchfield@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk

This conference is presented as part of a year-long collaboration between the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and MK Gallery focusing on women artists. In partnership, they will develop and deliver two events – one on Laura Knight and one on Ingrid Pollard. 


Image: Laura Knight, Elsie on Hassan, 1929-30, oil on canvas, 68.6 x 76.2 cm. Digital image courtesy of Nottingham City Museums & Galleries / Bridgeman Images

In collaboration with: