The Laura Knight exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery includes four pictures of special interest to ballet fans.  Firstly, there are the two portraits of Barbara Bonner, one of which seems to be a study for the other, that was commissioned by Earl Hoover, who chose her to be the model.  Although the final portrait is “staged”, in that the dancer is shown with a dresser who was actually Knight’s dressmaker, it is interesting not only because the artist (or possibly the patron) has chosen to show the dancer backstage, but also because Bonner is presented as such a strong and meditative figure;  this is no wafer-thin dreamy sylph, but a muscular and thoughtful woman.

In contrast, the portrait of Lubov Tchernicheva presents her as an elegant young woman.  The only clues that she is a dancer are her slightly bohemian grace, her subtle épaulement, and perhaps the strongly contrasting orange and blue background, that is reminiscent of the Diaghilev Ballet colour palette.

My favourite picture shows Lydia Lopokova in her dressing room.  This enchanting representation of the famously untidy dancer (who is said sometimes only to have used three hairpins to fix her hair, and once even cast aside a pair of tarlatan drawers during a performance of Les Sylphides) depicts a tiny figure, her floral headdress barely secured, her pointe shoes scattered on the floor, with an odd one lying on the chair behind her.

The exhibition is well worth a visit.  It runs until 13 October, and is open until 9pm on Thursday and Friday evenings.

Maggie Watson

16 September 2013