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Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring

Laura Knight

Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring

Laura Knight
  • Date: 1943
  • Style: Social Realism
  • Genre: genre painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Dimensions: 100 x 86 cm

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring is a 1943 painting by the British painter Laura Knight depicting a young woman, Ruby Loftus (1921–2004), working at an industrial lathe as part of the British war effort in World War II. The painting was commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC), and is now part of the Imperial War Museum's art collection. The painting brought instant fame to Loftus, and has been likened to the American figure of "Rosie the Riveter".

The War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC) commissioned the British painter Laura Knight to paint a portrait to bolster female recruitment to the ordnance factories as the Ministry of Supply were concerned at the level of disaffection and absenteeism among women in the factories. The resulting painting, made in the autumn of 1942, is one of the largest oil paintings in the entire WAAC collection and the largest single figure portrait it acquired throughout the war. It was painted in the Royal Ordnance Factory in Newport, South Wales, and shows a young woman, Ruby Loftus, performing a highly skilled piece of work on an industrial lathe. The component being worked is the breech ring of a double-barrelled, anti-aircraft gun designed to fire twenty rounds per minute. Any lack of precision in forming the breech ring could result in the gun being destroyed when fired. In peace-time this task would only be performed by a man with eight or nine years' experience but the 21-year-old Loftus mastered the technique after only a year or two of training.

Knight was initially offered 75 guineas for the commission, which she regarded as quite low for the effort and trouble involved in creating the work, and asked that the fee be raised to "100 guineas and expenses...which is infinitely lower than I should ask for any other work than that connected with the war". Her request was granted. Knight stayed in Newport to paint the picture, and over four weeks painted Loftus at work on her lathe.

The painting was first shown on 30 April 1943 at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The next day it was reproduced in eight British newspapers. A British Paramount News newsreel film, shot two days before the painting's unveiling and featuring the painting, Knight and Loftus, was shown in Britain's cinemas. Loftus was suddenly famous; she was interviewed on the BBC and her picture appeared in newspapers all over Britain. The painting was also reproduced in a poster version by WAAC.

The success of the painting led to further industrial commissions for Knight throughout the 1940s. In 1945 she painted Switch Works at Ellison Switchgear in Birmingham. This was followed by paintings of operations at the Dow Mac concrete railway-sleeper works and at the Skefko ball bearing factory.

Loftus married Lance Corporal John Green in September 1943, and took her husband's surname. After the war, she was offered an opportunity to take an engineering course, but decided against it and emigrated to Canada with her husband, eventually settling in Winfield, British Columbia. Loftus was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In British Columbia, she worked as an apple packer, in a post office, and as a correspondent for a local newspaper. Loftus travelled to London to see her portrait in the Imperial War Museum in May 1962, where she was accompanied by Laura Knight. Loftus's husband died in 2003, and she died in June 2004 at the age of 83.

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