The last of Nottingham’s new trams has been named after acclaimed local artist Dame Laura Knight whose childhood home now overlooks a tram stop.
The unveiling today (Friday July 15) was attended by members of the Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery and Nottingham City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, Cllr Dave Trimble.
During a career spanning over seventy years, Dame Laura (1877 – 1970) became the most famous female artist of her day in Britain. She was the first artist to be made a Dame and the first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy. Her success paved the way for more recognition of female artists, which at the time was a male-dominated profession.
Chairman of the Trustees of Dame Laura Knight’s Estate and great nephew of the artist, R. John Croft, said: “We are delighted that Dame Laura Knight is being honoured by her ‘home town’. She was the UK’s greatest female Impressionist painter, the first woman to be elected a Royal Academician and an official war artist at the Nuremburg trials after the Second World War – a true pioneer.”
Laura was born in 1877 to a family of mixed fortunes in the lace industry. When she was two, her mother, who had separated from Laura’s father, moved the family to Nottingham to take up a teaching post. Laura enrolled at Nottingham Art School in 1890, aged just thirteen and was the youngest student at the time.
Much of Laura’s inspiration later in life was influenced by her experiences as a young girl growing up in Nottingham. Laura’s paintings were extremely varied, and she painted people from many different walks of life. In the late 1920s she painted Gypsies at Epsom races, who reminded her of the Romany Gypsies she had met as a girl at Nottingham’s Goose Fair. Her early experiences of Goose Fair, with its bright colours and noisy crowds, gave Laura a love of performance which lasted all her life.
One of Laura’s childhood homes was on Noel Street, which still stands today and is located near to The Forest Tram stop.
She was orphaned at the age of sixteen, and continued at the Art School until 1895, supporting herself by teaching art from a studio in the ‘Castle Rooms’. Laura met Harold Knight whilst at the Art School, who she married in 1903.
At the height of her fame in the ‘30s and ‘40s she was known as the ‘grand old lady of the Art World’. She continued to paint until her death at the age of 93 in 1970, just a few days before the opening of her exhibition at Nottingham Castle.
Councillor David Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture at Nottingham City Council, said: “Dame Laura’s dedication to her art at a time when there were limited opportunities for female artists is a true inspiration.
“We are proud to be recognising her achievements by naming a tram in her honour, and that a Nottingham tram bearing her name will pass the place where she lived and grew up.”
There are currently three fine portrait paintings by Dame Laura on display in the Long Gallery at Nottingham Castle. The Museum’s collection also includes drawings and prints by the artist and Dame Laura will feature in new displays being planned as part of the Castle’s major Transformation Project.
Dame Laura follows other local notables to have a Nottingham tram named in their honour. Other legendary characters and local heroes include writer Alan Sillitoe, playwright and director Stephen Lowe and mathematician Ada Lovelace. Dame Laura’s naming is the last of Nottingham’s Citadis trams to be named.