Laura Knight & Caroline Walker: A Female Gaze
Nottingham Castle Trust is delighted to announce the arrival of a brand-new exhibition, examining the roles and lives of women over the past 100 years. Titled 'Laura Knight & Caroline Walker: A Female Gaze', this unique, home-grown exhibition features work by two important female British artists, brought together for the first time in an ambitious new presentation. Although born decades apart, both artists examine through paint the remarkable lived experiences of women, while individually celebrating subjects as varied as ballet performers, motherhood, and modern-day NHS heroes.
The exhibition celebrates the remarkable achievements of Nottingham artist Dame Laura Knight R.A (1877 - 1970) by highlighting over 80 much-loved and critically lauded paintings and drawings. The selection features works made in Nottingham, her well-known behind-the-scenes portrayals of circus and ballet performers, officially commissioned portraits, her work as an appointed war artist, and intimate portrayals of friends and communities with whom she built close relationships. There is an observational, sometimes voyeuristic, nature to these works, but also a social commentary on travelling and marginalised communities, the working and entertainment classes, as well as the broad (and changing) role of women and women's rights in the late 19th and early 20th century. Being a highly accomplished woman of her time, Knight's depictions of other women from across the spectrum of social class always shows the dignity of the feminine form, as well as the innate power of the working woman.
In contrast, the work of critically acclaimed British contemporary artist, Caroline Walker, is presented in her first museum solo show within the UK. A selection of works from the past four years, along with new, large-scale paintings, drawings, and sketches, provide a fascinating insight into the artist's processes.
Caroline Walker's (b. 1982) rich, atmospheric, and often ambiguous oil paintings reveal the diverse social, cultural, and economic experiences of women living in contemporary society. Blurring the boundary between objectivity and lived experience, Walker highlights often overlooked roles performed by women and the psychologically charged spaces they inhabit.
Walker explains: "The subject of my paintings in its broadest sense is women's experience, whether that is the imagined interior life of a glimpsed shop worker, a closely observed portrayal of my mother working in the family home, or women I've had the privilege of spending time within their place of work. From the anonymous to the highly personal, what links all these subjects is an investigation of an experience which is specifically female."
For Nottingham Castle, Walker also features recent works based on time spent within the maternity ward where her daughter was born, focusing on the midwives, NHS workers, nurses and doctors. Walker now observes the calm energy of dedicated health care professionals, where the women and midwives are often disguised behind PPE and scrubs, as well as charging the canvas with the heightened emotion that depicts the pain (and joy) of labour, but also the anxieties of giving birth during a viral pandemic.
With exclusive loans from Tate, the Royal Academy, the Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, as well as Nottingham City Museums & Galleries own collection, including some rarely seen works from private collections, and exclusive works straight from Caroline Walker's studio, the shared title, 'A Female Gaze', is a comment on the dominant 'male gaze' in the art world which Laura Knight rebelled against, also the unique perspective of Caroline Walker and where she draws her subject matter from.
By pairing Laura Knight's work with Caroline Walker's, the exhibition not only looks at developments by women artists over the past 100 years, but also considers the themes shared by both artists and examines why the female figure and the role women serve in society - the key protagonists in these works - is still such a strong and rich subject matter. These artists focus on the female experience, both in domestic settings and in the workplace, painting women from varying social classes and utilising an inquisitorial lens through which to paint their subjects.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue of Caroline Walker's paintings and drawings, published by BEAM Editions, and featuring a specially commissioned essay by Jennifer Higgie.