Laura Knight (maiden name Johnson) was born in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, the daughter of Charles and Charlotte Johnson. Her father died not long after her birth, and Laura Knight grew up in a family that struggled with financial problems.
In 1899 she was sent to France with the intention that she would eventually study art at a Parisian atelier. However, events would prevent this course of study.
Instead, after a short time in French schools, Laura Johnson returned to England. There, at the age of 13 she entered the Nottingham School of Art, one of the youngest students ever to join the school.
Whilst at school, she met one of the most promising students, Harold Knight, aged 17. Laura Johnson determined that the best method of learning was to copy Harold's technique. They soon became friends, and in 1903 Laura Johnson married Harold Knight (1874-1961).
In 1907 the Knights moved to the artists' colony in Newlyn, Cornwall, alongside Lamorna Birch, Alfred Munnings and Aleister Crowley, where she painted in an Impressionist style. The Beach (1908), widely admired both by other artists and the public, is an example of this style. Another interesting work is The Green Feather, which was painted in one day. In 1913 she made a painting that was a first for a woman artist, Self Portrait with Nude, showing Laura Knight with a nude model (fellow artist Ella Naper was the model).
After World War I, the Knights moved to London where Laura Knight met some of the most famous ballet dancers of the day, such as Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with Lydia Lopokova and Enrico Cecchetti, and Anna Pavlova. Her most famous work dates from this period.
While she was a well-educated and by no means, racist woman, Laura Knight, using a term common at the time, did make what today would be considered a racist remark after she had seen an African-American for the first time. It came after a recent visit to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she had accompanied her husband. "The babies of American darkies," she declared, "Are among the most beautiful things in the world. In fact, to the artist there is a whole world of beauty which ought to be explored in negro life in America." [New York Times, 3 November 1927, Page 23, Column 5.]
In 1928 the circus became her inspiration.
In 1929 that she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 1936 she became the first woman elected to the Royal Academy.
In the 1930s, she began to paint the world of horse racing and Gypsies.
After World War II, she was the official war artist at the Nuremberg Trials. The result was The Dock, Nuremberg (1946). She continued to paint even after her husband's death in 1961. She produced over 250 works in her lifetime as well as two autobiographies, Oil Paint and Grease Paint (1936) and The Magic of a Line (1965).