Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring
|Type||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||86 cm × 100 cm (34 in × 40 in)|
|Location||Imperial War Museum|
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 WAAC commissioned 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 21-year-old Ruby 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 Ruby 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. Ruby was suddenly famous; she was interviewed on the BBC and her picture appeared in newspapers all over Britain. The painting was 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, Ruby 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. Ruby 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. Ruby Green travelled to see her portrait in London's Imperial War Museum in May 1962, where she was accompanied by Laura Knight. Ruby's husband died in 2003, and Ruby died in June 2004 at the age of 83.
A housing development named for Loftus, Loftus Garden Village, is planned for the site of the Royal Ordnance Factory Number 11, the location of the painting.
The painting returned to Newport in 2006 when it was displayed as part of a project recording the recollections of the women who worked at the Royal Ordnance Factory. Throughout 2013 and 2014 the painting was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, London and then at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, as part of the Laura Knight Portraits exhibition, before being returned to the Imperial War Museum in July 2014.
- Canary girl, British women who worked in munitions
- Rosie the Riveter
- Women in the workforce
- Women's roles in the World Wars
- Bernard A. Cook. Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present. ABC-CLIO. p. 247. ISBN 978-1-85109-770-8.
- David Edgerton (9 September 2011). Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources, and Experts in the Second World War. Oxford University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-19-983267-5.
- Brain Foss (2007). War paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939–1945. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10890-3.
- "Ruby Loftus screwing a breech-ring – Dame Laura Knight RA (1877–1970)". Canadian War Museum.
- "A Gun Girl – Ruby Loftus – Dame Laura Knight's Newport commission". Wartime Newport: The Home Front.
- "Ruby Loftus screwing a breech-ring – Dame Laura Knight RA (1877–1970)". Imperial War Museum.
- "Loftus Garden Village – The story – Ruby Loftus". Loftus Garden Village.
- Caroline Fox (1988). Dame Laura Knight. Oxford: Phaidon Press. ISBN 0-7148-2447-X.
- Rosie Broadley (2013). Laura Knight Portraits. National Portrait Gallery,London. ISBN 978-1-85514-463-7.
- "Loftus Garden Village – The story". Loftus Garden Village.
- "Iconic war painting returns home". BBC News Online. 22 July 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
- Adrian Hamilton (22 July 2013). "Human touch:Laura Knight's NPG show is a timely reminder of her talent". The Independent. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
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