Sunday 17 December 2023

Sunday 17th December - Adah Knight (1864-1953)

Goodness, we only have a week left of this nonsense and I feel we have spent time with some pretty awesome women so let's see who our last week brings!

Oh, I was filled with such hubris this morning as I started on my search for Miss Adah Knight and immediately found this (admittedly rather grainy) image...

Hello Adah! How lovely to sort of see you. I then found that she had appeared in around 30 years worth of Royal Academies, so images won't be too much of a problem, right? Ummm...

Okay, so this post is going to be a little light on images as so far I have found three images and two of those are merely an 'attributed to' which is not a good sign. Honestly the third one is a bit dodgy too. Luckily, I can find a goodly amount of mentions in the newspapers so away we go on a rather sparsely illustrated life of Miss Adah Emily Gompertz Knight...

Gypsy Flower Seller (?undated)

Adah was the last child born to John (1824-1900) and Esther (1823-1888) in Gloucester. John was a coal, slate and lime merchant and Adah was preceded by Rosina (1849-1921), Frances (1851-1931), Hester (1857-1898), Edith (1858-1904) and Georgina (1858-1951).  The family lived close to the docks on Bristol Road which seems to have been cleared of older buildings unless they really did live next door to Burger King.

According to the Bournemouth Echo, Adah studied under Herkomer so I guess that means she either studied at Bushey or Slade, followed by a spell in Paris, learning from Pascale Dagnan-Bouveret. She returned to the Gloucester School of Art and we see her first newspaper appearance in a piece from 1889 about the Gloucester School of Art's exhibition of works. Adah was praised for her 'admirably executed girl's head.' As a young woman starting her artistic career, she became the secretary to a committee to raise money in order to keep a set of John Trivett Nettleship paintings in Gloucester permanently.  They had been hanging in the Corn Exchange for two years and they needed to raise £1000 to keep them. All those that were able to help were encouraged to send a guinea to Miss Adah Knight at the Glevum Studios, but I can't see if it happened and the Corn Exchange was demolished before the Second World War.

In 1892, Adah appeared in a Gloucester exhibition again linked to the art school.  She exhibited a quarter-length life size portrait of one of her sisters.  A year later, Gloucester was all abuzz - 'We are glad to state that Miss Adah Knight has two pictures in the Royal Academy this year. They are, moreover, admirably hung.' The two pieces in question were Lessons and A Little Girl and the address she gave was 2 Beaufort Gardens (which also might be the same as 2 Beaufort Buildings which was their address in the 1891 census.) Her pictures, described as 'dainty' in the Gloucester Journal, were word-drawn for the readers - Lessons was hung low down in the left-hand corner of Gallery VII. It showed a little boy and girl hard at work on their studies on opposite sides of a table.  The details such as the girl's pinafore and the dog-eared pages of the book were admired and it was decided to be 'artistic, in a quiet, unpresuming way.'  The second, A Little Girl was a black and white study of a youthful head, reported as 'clever.'

The year later and Adah was back at the RA, with two more black and white studies - Hester, the head of a girl, possibly her sister, and Dreamlands 'a face on which sleep has exercised its potent spell,' according to the Western Daily Press. She missed the 1895 RA, instead exhibiting locally, but she was back in 1896 with four pictures, hung on the line (which is very important.) Her picture A Game of Chess was described in the Bristol Times and Mirror as 'as an old fashioned interior ... correct and shows signs of care.' Another small drawing, Daphne was also admired by the Gloucester Journal, as were two portraits, one of Mrs Tom Morris and the other entitled merely Portrait of a Lady. The Gloucestershire Chronicle announced 'The citizens generally are naturally proud of Miss Adah Knight's success. Anyone who has seen her pictures can readily understand the real merit of her paintings; they are conscientious works of art. They are imbued with that touch of realism which makes all paintings charming to the spectator and admired by the art connoisseurs.'

Portrait of a Gentleman of Learning (undated) attributed to Adah

1897 brought more success and yet more love from the local press. The Gloucester Citizen wrote 'The Gloucester public will be pleased to learn that among the pictures which have been successful in obtaining a place in the Royal Academy this year is one entitled "Memories" by Miss Adah Knight, the talented daughter of our old and respected fellow citizen Mr John Knight.' She missed the 1898 exhibition, but returned in 1899 with four more works, this time miniatures - A Little Child Pansey, The Bishop of Gloucester and Mrs Albert Stephens, which the Gloucester Journal called 'delicious'.

The turn of the century saw the death of John Knight, which was big news in Gloucester and many of the reports of the funeral mentioned Adah's career.  She exhibited one portrait at the RA that year, of Miss Cox, which the Gloucester Journal reported was 'executed with the felicity which makes all the work of this local pupil of the renowned Herkomer.' She was also elected a member of the Society of Miniature Painters.

Blenheim Towers, Boscombe

While there was no RA for Adah in 1901, she painted the portraits of Lord and Lady Furness to mark their silver wedding anniversary.  She returned to the RA in 1902 with a miniature entitled Daffodils, and at the Society of Miniature Painters, she exhibited The Nurse. She would return to the RA in 1905 but in the meantime she left her hometown of Gloucester and moved to the seaside, down to Blenheim Towers in Boscombe, on the east side of Bournemouth.  This resulted in the piece in the Bournemouth Graphic when she appeared at the annual exhibition of the Bournemouth Art Society.  She was back at the RA in 1905 with Dreams, which still made the news in Gloucester. 

It is interesting how Gloucester never seemed to lose its love for Adah and it still had full reports of her RA successes, such as in 1906 which she appeared again with two miniatures Phenie and Miss Hester Hallowes.  She also gave a painting to a friend who married back in Gloucester in the summer. In 1908 she had another couple of miniatures in the RA exhibition, Joan and "She Hath Two Eyes So Soft and Brown - Take Care!' from the poem by Longfellow. I am particularly disappointed to not have a picture of the latter miniature as the poem is a sulky masterpiece about a chap who is scared of ladies, which is fair enough because we are so scary.

Adah's miniature Eleanore was a well-deserved inclusion in the 1910, according to the Hampshire Observer. Shockingly, there was no news coverage of her 1911 miniature at the RA, Elizabeth, and only one mention of her 1912 entry Gabrielle Desart. The Hampshire Observer were complimentary - 'a clever little picture in which rich purple tones are handled with dexterity.' No mention again for the two entries in 1914, Memories and The Black Hat.  In fact, her art does not get another mention until after the war, the only mention being the fact that she gave a brooch at the wedding of Miss Christine Stephens in Cheltenham.  I wondered if she was the daughter of Mrs Albert Stephens from 1899.

Into the roaring '20s and the mentions get noticeably less in the newspapers. Her 1921 piece, The Pink Feather had no mention, but her 1922 miniatures Pamela and Portrait of a Lady garnered a mention in the Gentlewoman's review of the RA.  Similarly, in 1923 there was no great fanfare, just an acknowledgement she had been at the RA with Adrienne in the Hampshire Advertiser.  1924's miniature of Katherine was noted in the West Sussex Gazette, the 1926 entry fairing about the same. Her 1927 RA piece Spring was ignored in favour of her piece in the Bournemouth Art Club exhibition.  For 1928 at the Royal Academy, the Swanage Times and Directory listed her works Fantasy and her portrait of the late Reverend J F Tooke-Hallowes MA as appearing for what would be her last time.

Needlework (undated) attributed to Adah

By this point Adah was 64 and most of her family had died. Rosina, who she lived with in Bournemouth, had died in 1921.  Sister Frances died in 1931, and Adah followed in 1933, leaving Georgina as the last Knight standing, inheriting £1670 from Adah.

The lessons from today must be that what a local artist lacks in images, they make up for in regional enthusiasm.  The Gloucestershire newspapers did a wonderful job in cheerleading for Adah right from the start of her career and even after she had moved away. When you are in a place where an artist at the RA is a novelty, that artist becomes headline news and every year is something to celebrate.  Adah did much better on this front than some of my arguably more successful ladies who lived in London. After Sibyl and her sculpture, I wonder if a miniature exhibition is also something that museums would shy away from. ArtUK do not do miniatures, which limits our access to them and I would argue there is a feminist dimension to that as an awful lot of women did miniatures. Mr Walker pointed out the problems with holding miniature exhibitions - how do you display them, you'd need loads - even though he does try and include them where he can.  The Victorian and Edwardian periods seem to be an absolute goldmine for their production by women.  Maybe if we took miniatures seriously, Adah would have her time again, and this time not just in Gloucester.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Kirsty. What a shame that there aren't more images available. Adah certainly seems to have created plenty of works. I agree about miniatures - the detail in them is always fascinating. Working on such a small scale also requires tremendous control and attention to detail. I wish critics wouldn't use the work 'charming'. I know it is a positive, but to me, it is still patronising. Did they use that word in reviews for male artists, I wonder? (Perhaps it's me and I am too defensive?!)
    Best wishes


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx