A balloon site, (Coventry) Laura Knight, 1943

ROF Newport, office entrance, 1941/42

Dame Laura Knight, Ruby Loftus screwing a breech-ring, 1943. Courtesy IWM, London

ROF, rose garden, 1941/42

ROF, 63 Cromwell Road, Newport, 1941/42

ROF, Ruby and Dame Laura, April 1943

ROF, fitting breech ring, 1941/42

Ruby Loftus screwing a breech ring , drawing, Laura Knight, 1943
Wartime Newport:
The Home Front

A Gun Girl

Ruby Loftus
Dame Laura Knight's Newport commission
At this time, Laura Knight was the most prominent woman artist in Britain, the first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy since 1760. She was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to produce paintings as war records.

Between 1941 and 1945, for convenience as well as safety, Laura Knight moved from London to the British Camp Hotel in Malvern. From here she was able to travel easily to the Midlands and South Wales to paint. One of her commissions was Ruby Loftus screwing a breech-ring at the ROF in Newport.

This painting is now in the collections at the Imperial War Museum in London.

“The fee offered, 75 guineas, is so low for an undertaking of that kind which entails the trouble of staying in the town and getting all my materials and things over there, apart from the difficulties of working in a strange place.

If the Committee could see their way to giving me 100 guineas and expenses, which is infinitely lower than I should ask for any other work than that connected with the war, I would come to Newport to do the portrait during January 1943 and make a complete work of it, as I have tried to do with all other commissions given by the Ministry of Information.

On the other hand, if Miss Loftus could be sent here, I would paint her portrait in my studio for the fee stated, 75 guineas. If she could come and be here for 5 or 6 days I could undertake to complete it in that time, also during January.”
Dame Laura Knight, Letter to the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, 1942

Laura Knight's fee was amended to the amount she asked. She went to the Newport Ordnance Factory in March 1943 and stayed at 63 Cromwell Road, a house belonging to the Factory. Over the next three to four weeks she painted Ruby at her factory lathe working on the breech ring of a gun.

"Dame Laura was looked after, during her stay in Newport, by the Superintendent's Secretary Miss Lucinda Holland. As a token of her appreciation Dame Laura presented her with an original sketch which she made in the factory and on which she based the picture in the Royal Academy. The gift was accompanied by a letter from Dame Laura Knight."
Label on backboard of the drawing, 1943

Dangerous jobs for women

“Laura had not thought about possible danger to herself, but it was alarming standing at her easel, painting, with heavy armament above. One day a loose wheel came hurtling down. Instead of starting back, Laura threw herself forward, protecting her canvas - she felt the rush of air as the wheel fell on the floor, inches behind her.”
Janet Dunbar, Laura Knight, 1975

“The sketch shows this exceptional lathe operator machining and cutting the internal thread of a breech ring for a two-pounder anti-tank gun. While Miss Loftus continued working, Dame Laura set up, with help, her easel and a temporary low partition guarded her from passing traffic. For the next two weeks or so, Dame Laura worked steadily with her busy, ever moving model.”
John Sampson, 2004

"Dame Laura Knight set up her easel on the shop floor and painted. She was very self-possessed and worked with the noise of the machines and the cranes all around her, hardly stopping for refreshment. I had to take her by the arm to make her stop for a hot drink."
Edna Lucas, ROF Welfare Department 1940-45. October 2004

Copyright: Newport Museum & Art Gallery Newport South Wales NP20 1PA


Ruby Loftus