A medal presented to one of Britain’s most famous female painters 126 years ago – a Nottingham’s art school teen prodigy - has been discovered at a free valuation day.
The ‘National Medal for Success in Art’ was awarded to Laura Johnson – later Dame Laura Knight - who became the youngest student to enrol at Nottingham School of Art at the age of 13 in 1890.
It’s now due to be sold by Hansons Auctioneers in October alongside a similar medal awarded to her mother Charlotte Johnson. The two bronze medals carry an estimate of £1,000-£1,500.
They were awarded to the talented pair by the Science and Art Department of South Kensington Museum in London, now the V&A, the world’s leading museum of art and design.
The edge of Laura’s medal is inscribed with the words, ‘Laura Johnson Subject 8b2 1893’ while her mother’s medal says: ‘Charlotte Johnson Nottingham Stage 16a 1881’.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “I get so excited by finds like this that surprise us at our free valuations days at our Derbyshire saleroom.
“We understand 16a refers to painting the human figure or animals in monochrome from casts in oil, watercolour or tempura but we’re not certain what subject 82b refers to.
“Whatever it means, we know one thing for certain - Laura went on to become one of Britain’s most famous and respected artists, paving the way for other female artists to gain recognition. We’re honoured to be selling these medals.”
The road to success was not easy for the Johnson family. Charlotte Johnson moved to Nottingham in 1879 and took on private art students to raise money for her three daughters after their father abandoned them.
Charlotte taught part-time at the Nottingham School of Art and managed to have Laura enrolled as an 'artisan student', paying no fees, when she was 13.
At the age of 15 and still a student herself, Laura took over her mother's teaching duties when Charlotte was diagnosed with cancer and became seriously ill.
Despite growing up amid financial hardship and then losing her mother, Laura’s career went from strength to strength.
She worked in oils, watercolours, etching, engraving and drypoint and in 1903 married fellow artist Harold Knight. She was known for capturing London’s world of theatre and ballet on canvas and for her work as a war artist. She was also inspired by marginalised communities such as gypsies and circus performers.
She became the only women to be given First and Second World War commissions. In 1929 she was made a Dame of the British Empire; in 1936 she was the first woman elected to full membership of the Royal Academy and in 1946 she was the only British artist to cover the Nuremberg trials.
Laura, who was born in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, in 1877, and died at the age of 92 in 1970, did all this at a time when the British art establishment was male-dominated.
The Laura Johnson (Knight) and Charlotte Johnson medals will be sold during the October 17-23 Antiques and Collectors Auction at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, DE65 6LS. More entries invited until October 4.
Anything that could turn into an auction star at home? Hansons holds free valuation events every month in Nottinghamshire. Its experts will be at Newark Civil War Centre, 14 Appleton Gate, Newark NG24 1JY, on October 8, 10am-1pm. It also offer free valuations at its Etwall saleroom on Wednesday, 5-7pm, Fridays, 10am-4pm and Saturdays, 9am-noon. To find out more about valuations, or to arrange a free home visit or no-obligation quote for house clearance or downsizing, email [email protected].