Highlights of the Fine Art Painting Collection
Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828)
Richard Parkes Bonington was born in Arnold, near Nottingham but spent much of his short life in France, the family having moved to Calais in 1817, when his father helped to establish the Calais lace industry with machinery smuggled from Nottingham.
Bonington junior trained as an artist first in Calais, then in Paris and was one of the stars of the 1824 Paris Salon, where he received a gold medal, along with Copley Fielding and John Constable. Sadly, this early promise was cut short by his untimely death. However, during his short life and in common with many artists of his generation, Bonington was an avid traveller. He explored the coasts of Northern France and the banks of the river Seine, making numerous watercolour studies. He also visited London (in 1825) with several French artists, including Eugene Delacroix. Following their return to Paris, Bonington and Delacroix shared a studio for a brief, influential period and in 1826 Bonington he travelled through Switzerland to Venice.
Whether in his history and subject paintings, landscapes, highly-finished works or sketches, Bonington’s mastery of colour and sparkling atmospherics can be seen. From his humble beginnings, he became one of the most important artists of the early nineteenth century, vital to the understanding of French and British art of the Romantic period.
Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970)
Laura Knight was born in Long Eaton, near Nottingham, to a struggling family involved in the lace trade.
During a career spanning over seventy years, Laura Knight became the most famous woman artist in Britain. Among her many achievements, she became the first female artist to be elected to the Royal Academy as a full Academician since the foundation members in 1768. She was also commissioned to paint the Nuremburg trials at the end of World War II. At a time when many women artists found it difficult to access the same training and opportunities as their male counterparts, she was something of ‘trail-blazer’.
The subject matter of Laura’s paintings was varied and she painted people from many different walks of life. In 1931 she started painting Gypsies at Epsom races, who reminded her of the travelling people she had met as a young girl at Nottingham’s Goose Fair. She began spending time with them, as she had done previously with other travellers; in 1929 she had toured the South Coast with Great Carmo’s Circus and her illustrations of circus life came to symbolise her interest in marginal communities. Her work captures the freedom, but also sometimes the hardship of travellers’ lives.
Her early experiences of Goose Fair in Nottingham, with its bright colours, noisy crowds and temporary escape from everyday life, gave Laura a love of performance which lasted throughout her life. In London, she developed a passion for theatre and spent a lot of time drawing and painting backstage.