At the end of the war Dame Laura Knight proposed to the War Artists' Advisory Committee the Nuremberg war crimes trials as a subject. The Committee agreed and Dame Laura Knight went to Germany in January 1946 and spent three months observing the trials from inside the courtroom. The result was the large oil painting, The Nuremberg Trial.
This painting departs from the realism of her earlier wartime paintings, in that whilst realistically depicting the Nazi war criminals sitting in the dock during their trial, the rear and side walls of the courtroom are missing to reveal a ruined city, partially in flames.
Knight explained this choice of composition in a letter to the War Artists' Advisory Committee,
"In that ruined city death and destruction are ever present. They had to come into the picture, without them, it would not be the Nuremberg as it now is during the trial, when the death of millions and utter devastation are the sole topics of conversation wherever one goes – whatever one is doing".
The painting was coolly received at the subsequent Royal Academy Summer Exhibition but was greatly praised by those who had witnessed the trials.
...after the War, she requested that she be allowed to go to Germany and paint those on trial for war crimes at Nuremberg. She sat in the courtroom for months, and the exhibition has a great sketchbook drawing of Goering alongside a diary entry where Knight ponders whether she should smile at and acknowledge the war criminals she has come to recognize when their eyes meet across the courtroom.
Although her portraits are powerful, I can’t argue that there’s anything ground-breaking in Knight’s style. But I think what endears me to her work is her desire to paint all sections of society and her confidence in her own style and what she wanted to paint. I can just imagine her sitting in the press box at Nuremberg (she pretended to be a newspaper correspondent), determinedly taking down every detail of these men’s faces, whilst her modernist contemporaries were back in London, painting each other in their insular circles. I’d bet there weren’t many middle-aged women in the 1940s who would volunteer to sit in on the Nuremberg trials, and her spirit is definitely something to be admired.