Painter Laura Knight (née Johnson) was born in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, England on 4 August 1877 and was raised by her mother in modest circumstances. Her talent was recognised early and she won a scholarship to the South Kensington Museum School of Art, where she met her future husband, Harold Knight. The couple spent periods in Staithes, North Yorkshire, and in the Netherlands, where they were inspired by fisherfolk and coastal landscapes, before settling in Cornwall in 1907. They became members of the Newlyn School and exhibited regularly locally at the Newlyn Art Gallery and and the Passmore Edwards Art Gallery, as well as the Royal Academy and the Fine Art Society in London.

During the First World War, prohibited from painting the coast, the couple moved to London, where Laura Knight specialised in studies of famous ballet dancers including Anna Pavlova and Lydia Lopokova. After the war, she continued to portray dancers, actors and performers, especially circus scenes, and taught herself etching after acquiring George Clausen’s printing press. In 1929 Knight was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and three years later was elected president of the Society of Women Artists, also exhibiting with the Women's International Art Club. In 1936 she became the first woman to be elected to full membership of the Royal Academy since its foundation.

During the Second World War she produced influential poster designs for the army, as well as paintings documenting the preparations for war as an Official War Artist from around 1940. In 1946 she attended the Nuremberg trials to make sketches commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee that were later realised on large-scale canvases (held at the Imperial War Museum). After the war, she returned to her favoured subjects of theatre and country life, exhibited widely at the Royal Academy, the Leicester Galleries and Upper Grosvenor Galleries. Laura Knight died in London, England on 7 July 1970. Her works are represented in UK public collections including the Imperial War Museum, Leicester Museum & Art Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, and the Tate.