'My picture will be very beautiful. I have drawn 11 plates of melon, pink melon; 9 glasses of wine some empty, because they have run out, & 38 people'. Letter to Mother, 24th August 1922.
The 'Marriage at Cana', started in 1922, is the principal painting produced by Knights during her time at the British School at Rome.
It depicts the miracle of the water turned into wine, (related in John 2:1-12). The setting for the painting is the Borghese Gardens adjoining the British School at Rome. The setting is also reminiscent of the background devised by Piero delta Francesca for the fresco of 'The Adoration of the True Cross' in the Church of S.Francesco in Arezzo, visited by Knights prior to starting work on her own composition.
The artist includes herself amongst the guests, along side, in the earliest studies, Arnold Mason. Tom Monnington, who did not arrive at the British School at Rome until 1923, is included in later studies at the far end of the table, in effect next to Mason. As known rivals over Knights they clearly made an ill-suited pair for a marriage feast and Mason is subsequently omitted from the final composition.
Winifred Knights (1899-1947)
Painter and draughtsman, born in London, married to the artist Walter Thomas Monnington. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, 1915-17 and 1918-20. Her teachers included Henry Tonks and Fred Brown and she personified the Slade School tradition under their reign. In 1919 she won the Slade Summer Composition Prize (for Mill Hands on Strike) and the following year the coveted Rome Scholarship. She remained in Rome 1920-25, marrying fellow Rome Scholar Thomas Monnington in April 1924. One of her principal works was The Marriage at Cana for the British School at Rome, now in the National Gallery of New Zealand in Wellington. The Tate Gallery also holds her work, including her iconic winning entry for the Rome Scholarship, The Deluge, 1919. Knights died in London at the age of 48.
Had Knights produced more during her relatively short life she might well today be considered among the major women painters of the twentieth century.
Selected literature: Paul Liss, Winifred Knights, The British School at Rome/Fine Art Society plc, 1995
See all works by Winifred Knights