Four preparatory drawings by Winifred Knights

Item author: Winifred Knights
Item date: c. 1933
Grant Value: £1,500 [Smaller Libraries Fund]
Item cost: £1,800
Item date acquired: 2018
Item institution: Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library
Town/City: Canterbury
County: Kent

A generous grant from the Friends of the National Libraries helped us to secure four preparatory drawings by Winifred Knights (1899-1947). These are for the painting ‘Scenes from the Life of St Martin’, which forms the altarpiece of St Martin’s Chapel in the North-East transept of the Cathedral. Knights completed the painting in 1933.    

The painting itself was lent to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2016 for its widely acclaimed retrospective exhibition on Knights, and was displayed alongside a number of her preparatory drawings. The exhibition highlighted the importance of the Cathedral’s painting amongst the artist’s oeuvre. For the Cathedral, the painting is a highly significant example of 20th-century art, and also of work by women artists.

The drawings (reference CCA-U571) are fine pieces of draughtsmanship, marking the artist’s steps towards the full conception of the painting. One is a sketch for the composition of the painting. This is particularly important evidence because a section at the left-hand side of the painting was removed during treatment in the 1980s. The other drawings are for individual figures, including St Martin himself. That drawing is lined for transfer to the final painting and provides an interesting insight into Knights’ working methods. The drawings were previously owned by the artist’s estate and family. Canterbury Museums hold three further drawings by Knights for the painting, and they are being lent to us for appreciation alongside our drawings. The Archives and Library holds correspondence files relating to the commissioning of the painting and also some drawings by Herbert Baker, the architect who restored the chapel in memory of Alfred, 1st Viscount Milner (1854-1925). Thus, the drawings are important additions to that historical record.

The preparatory drawings can be made available to researchers, and may be used in future years for short-term displays.

One of the drawings.
Two of the drawings. Courtesy of Cantberbury Cathedral Archives and Library.