Friday, 10 August 2012

Dame Laura Knight Exhibition in Penzance. The Nuremberg Trials. The Dock



Dame Laura Knight 

Flying a Kite by Dame Laura Knight RA 1877-1970

This major exhibition in 2012 sponsored by Messum, and curated by Penlee Gallery in Penzance, shows many paintings of Cornwall, so of course the scenery is striking, familiar to those who know it, and beautiful.

Flying a Kite,  2010, was lent to Penlee House by Iziko, the National Gallery of South Africa. The work was well-received when first shown at the Royal Academy. This is a large work, with a rainbow right across it. It shows the beautiful landscape from the hills above Newlyn. Many people were crowded round it at the exhibition. The Kite though beautiful could easily be put on biscuit tins, it is reminiscent of Renoir's sugariest paintings.  
Ascot Finery by Dame Laura Knight RA
Knight, at this stage,  was obviously influenced by the Impressionists. It is clear from the kite painting and rather too many romanticised genre paintings of gypsies and others of that ilk that Dame Laura veered to the sentimental in her early work.
The  cliffside portraits show that Dame Laura found her true voice, so to speak, or rather her true style.
Her  portraits of women whom one feels were her friends - on rocks, on the cliffs, at the rock pool etc. come as a delightful contrast. The women are relaxed: painted with care, their stance, the detail of the clothes, and the poses  all show how much they mattered to Dame Laura.
Lamorna Cove by Dame Laura 


The Cornish Coast

A dark pool
                                    The Dock. 1946. Imperial War Museum

Dame Laura Knight was an official war artist during WW II, and was commissioned in January 1946 to paint the Nuremberg Trials for the British Government War Records.

Her painting shows the group of German defence lawyers in front of two benches of the twenty-one prisoners/German war leaders, guarded from behind by US soldiers, known as Snowdrops on account of their white helmets.

Photo (in front row, from left to right): Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel
In second row, from left to right: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel

Destruction in Nuremberg

Dame Laura writes movingly about her stay in Nuremberg in in her fascinating autobiography, The Magic of a Line, noting the “first view of total destruction” on her way there from Fϋrt airport. In Chapter XXXVIII, From My Nuremberg Diary, Dame Laura tells of the horrors of war, the people she met and painted, and describes the contrast between the luxury in the Grand Hotel – although that too had been bombed, and the poverty and difficulties faced by the Germans in the ruined city.

Food at the Grand, where she stayed, was flown in from the USA, “for there is no food to be bought or begged in Germany.” She felt for her German chambermaid: “Bare flesh pokes through the numberless darns of the rag of a pullover she is wearing.”

Unlike the other war artists in the courtroom of the Palace of Justice, who painted the defendants from a balcony opposite the prisoners, - so far away they had to use opera glasses,  Dame Laura chose to paint them from a much nearer vantage point, at the side and from above, in the borrowed American broadcasting box, which was empty most of the time.
In the background, instead of painting the oak-panelled walls of the courtroom, Dame Laura depicted the apocalyptic scene of the bombed and devastated city of Nuremberg on fire, the ravaged buildings and piles of rubble that she saw on her daily trip to and from the court and during her walks around the city.

The Dock goes far beyond a depiction of the War Trials, with the background of destruction so movingly portrayed by Dame Laura Knight.  It makes the spectator feel the futility of war, a sense of guilt for the bombing campaign carried out by the Allies, and sympathy for the vanquished.
Dame Laura describes some of the accused: most of the prisoners are wearing earphones.
Hermann Goering had his own Snowdrop: “no beauty to look at”
Rudolph Heß: “his eyes deep-set in cavernous sockets”
Joachim von Ribbentrop, “for some reason I keep forgetting to draw him. He looks a wreck”
Wilhelm Keitel: “always stiffly upright”
Alfred Rosenberg
Hans Frank
Julius Streicher: “bulky in a checked sports suit”
Walther Funk, “Poor little Funk the pianist:…every feature of his face droops in despair.” (Funk used to play the piano for Hitler).
Hjalmar Schacht:  “concentrating on the book he reads constantly…Churchill’s biography in German, I am told”
Admiral Karl Dönitz -in the back row- “looks as ordinary as any other man you would meet on the streets”.
Front row, from left to right: Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk, Hjalmar Schacht.
Back row from left to right: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer, Konstantin van Neurath, Hans Fritzsche.

Judge Sir Norman Birkett 

Dame Laura admired Judge Sir Norman Birkett, writing of “his pity for the twenty wretched creatures in the dock, some of whom know only too well that their days in this world are only too few!” She painted Birkett and Lord Justice Lawrence during the trials.
She formed a firm friendship with Colonel Andrus, who was in charge of the prisoners at Nuremberg, “one of the kindest and most honourable men I ever knew”. The Colonel gave a dinner party for Dame Laura, Lord Justice and Lady Lawrence and Mr. Justice Jackson, before taking them to Cavalleria Rusticana at the Opera House.

Lord Justice Lawrence
“During dinner Mr. Justice Jackson told us that he considered Goering’s. exposition of Nazi principles and his own defence was the most brilliant argument he had ever heard. Lord Justice Lawrence agreed with him”.

Nuremberg Trials Fact Sheet.

Karl Doenitz: Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy
Hans Frank: Governor-general of occupied Poland
Wilhelm Frick: Minister of the Interior
Hans Fritzsche: Head of the Wireless News Service (radio produced by the Reich)
Walther Funk: Minister of Economics
Hermann Goering: Second-in-command to Hitler, Luftwaffe (Air Force) Chief, President of Reichstag
Rudolf Hess: Deputy to Hitler, Nazi Party Leader
Alfred Jodl: Chief of Operations for the German High Command (Army)
Ernst Kaltenbrunner: Chief of Security Police, Chief of RSHA (an organization containing, the Austrian branches of the SS and the Gestapo
Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of Staff of the German High Command
Erich Raeder: Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy (before Doenitz)
Alfred Rosenberg: Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories, Chief Nazi Philosopher
Fritz Sauckel: Head of Slave Labour Recruitment
Hjalmar Schacht: Minister of Economics (pre-war), President of Reichsbank
Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Chancellor of Austria, Reich Commissioner of the Netherlands
Albert Speer: Minister of Armaments and Munitions, Hitler’s architect and friend
Julius Streicher: Editor of Der Sturmer (anti-Semitic publication)
Konstantin von Neurath: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia
Franz von Papen: Chancellor of Reich before Hitler, Vice Chancellor under Hitler, Ambassador to Turkey
Joachim von Ribbentrop: Foreign Minister, Ambassador to England
Baldur von Schirach: Head of Hitler Youth

‘From a great oak, small acorns grow’. (The great oak: Dame Laura and her painting of The Dock: the acorn the above story, of course).

Rambulation reviewed the exhibition of Dame Laura Knight at Penlee House  Penzance, Cornwall,  last month and thought that was the end of the story. None of you took much notice!

However, after this Rambulation's husband Bob’s oldest friend Jonathan came to stay, whom Bob always called Hargreaves. He is an art collector and cattle farmer now retired, who likes to buy rural paintings which usually include cattle. We go to exhibitions and art galleries when he comes, which is fine by me. Hargreaves for reading matter had brought with him his latest purchase,  Laura Knight’s autobiography, The Magic of a Line, which he had found in a second-hand book shop for the large (but invaluable to me) sum of £115.

Needless to say, Rambulation seized on it, read it, photocopied the chapter on the Nuremberg Trials, and wrote the story. The poor man never got to read his book while he was here, but never fear: he bought another on the Newlyn artists, and was perfectly happy with that. He only left yesterday with the autobiography back in his possession.

The café has excellent home-made soup, good coffee and an interesting menu.

Open Monday to Saturday
Admission £4.50 adults,£3.00 concessions,
Free Admission on Saturdays
01736 363625