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York Art Gallery has acquired a new artwork by notable British artist Dame Laura Knight DBE RA RWS, thanks to the generosity of the Friends of York Art Gallery. The oil painting ‘Early Morning in a Gypsy Camp’, 1953, is now on public display in the Burton Gallery as part of the permanent collection.

Throughout her impressive career, artist Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) captured a wide variety of subject matters, including figurative scenes from the ballet, the circus and those visiting Cornwall’s beautiful beaches. Knight was also deeply interested in the lives of marginalised communities and individuals.

In 1933, whilst attending Derby Day to paint the racing crowds, Knight was favourably drawn to the Gypsy Roma Travellers who attended the event. Knight befriended and painted the group at the races and would later go on to make daily visits to a settlement in Iver in Buckinghamshire to depict their everyday lives. Knight claimed this was ‘one of the most inspiring times of my working life’.

The vivid impressions created by Knight found their way into many pictures of the period, and would eventually be used to create ‘Early Morning in a Gypsy Camp’ – arguably one of the definitive images of Romany life.

The outbreak of the Second World War meant that this period in Knight’s career paused, as she was commissioned as an official war artist and even covered the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. After the war Knight returned to the subject matter, and created a study for the work in 1952, incorporating the people who lived within the pages of her sketchbook. The final work was highly praised for its ‘power and gusto’ when shown at the Royal Academy in 1953.

Charles Martindale, current Chair of the Friends of York Art Gallery, said: “The purchase of Laura Knight’s Early Morning in a Gypsy Camp is our most highly priced such gift to the Gallery to date, obtained wholly through a legacy generously left us by Dr Dennis Bearpark, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Retreat in York, who for many years was a member of the Friends Committee. The Gallery’s collection contains few paintings by leading women artists, and Dame Laura Knight was certainly the most successful British woman painter of the last century, as well as the first to be elected a full member of the Royal Academy. This is a splendid example of her work, which, since its sale in 1953, has been in a private collection out of the public eye. Its accession to the collection is a moment for great celebration.”

Alongside the new acquisition, York Museums Trust is pleased to have partnered with York Travellers Trust to create a label which aims to share stories and knowledge of York’s local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community in response to Laura Knight’s painting. The Gypsy and Traveller community is York’s oldest, and until very recently, largest minority ethnic group with an estimated 1300 Gypsy and Traveller people living in York and the surrounding areas. Over the last few years York Museums Trust and York Travellers Trust have been working on ways to share their important history and contribution to York through a range of activities. The new collaborative label will go on display to celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month this month and will remain part of the permanent interpretation of the artwork.

Becky Gee, Curator of Fine Art at York Art Gallery, said: “We are incredibly grateful to the Friends of York Art Gallery for their support in the acquisition of this painting. Thanks must also go to Beatrice Bertram, Senior Curator, former Head of Curatorial, Emma Hamlett, and external advisor Robert Upstone, for working with the Friends to find a suitable painting for the Gallery. We’re extremely thankful to have been able to partner with York Travellers Trust to meaningfully interpret this painting and sincerely hope visitors enjoy seeing ‘Early Morning in a Gypsy Camp’ as part of our free displays.”

‘Early Morning in a Gypsy Camp’ by Dame Laura Knight is now on display at York Art Gallery. General admission to York Art Gallery is free, but pre-booking is advised. To book go to: www.yorkartgallery.org.uk