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 Charles Robert Knight  (1874 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: animals in landscape painting-dinosaurs, sculpture

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Ad Code: 3
Charles Robert Knight
from Auction House Records.
Prehistoric Camels and Rhinos
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Charles was an American artist best known for his influential paintings of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  His works have been reproduced in many books and exhibited at major museums in the United States.

As a child, Knight was deeply interested in nature and animals, and spent many hours copying the illustrations from his father’s natural history books.  Though legally blind because of astigmatism and a subsequent injury to his right eye, Knight pursued his artistic talents with the help of specially-designed glasses, and at the age of twelve, he enrolled at the Metropolitan Art School to become a commercial artist.  In 1890, he was hired by a church-decorating firm to design stained-glass windows, and after two years with them, became a freelance illustrator for books and magazines, specializing in nature scenes.

In his free time, Knight visited the American Museum of Natural History, attracting the attention of Dr. Jacob Wortman, who asked Knight to paint a restoration of a prehistoric pig whose fossilized bones were on display. Though many artists at the time were reluctant to make such restorations, given the amount of guesswork involved, Knight applied his knowledge of modern pig anatomy to make the painting as realistic as possible, and used his imagination to fill in any gaps. Wortman was thrilled with the final result, and the museum soon commissioned Knight to produce an entire series of watercolors for their fossil halls. These paintings were hugely popular among visitors, and Knight continued to work with the museum well until the 1930s, painting what would become some of the world’s most celebrated images of dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals, and prehistoric humans.

Soon, natural history museums throughout the country began requesting Knight paintings for their own fossil exhibits including the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  In 1926,Knight began a 28 mural series for Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, a project which chronicled the history of life on earth and took four years to complete.  At the Field Museum, he produced one of his best-known pieces, a mural featuringTyrannosaurus and Triceratops.  This confrontation scene between a predator and its prey  would inspire a huge number of imitations, establishing the two dinosaurs as “mortal enemies” in the popular consciousness. The Field Museum’s Alexander Sherman says, “It is so well-loved that it has become the standard encounter for portraying the age of dinosaurs” (1)

Other museums that have work by Knight are the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Smithsonian, Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Bronz, Lincoln and Brookfield Zoos.  Knight was actually the only person in America allowed to paint Su Lin, a giant panda that lived at Brookfield Zoo during the 1930s .

While making murals for museums and zoos, Knight continued illustrating books and magazines, and became a frequent contributor to National Geographic.   He also wrote and illustrated several books of his own, such as Before the Dawn of History (Knight, 1935), Life Through the Ages (1946), Animal Drawing: Anatomy and Action for Artists (1947), and Prehistoric Man: The Great Adventure (1949).  Additionally, Knight became a popular lecturer, describing prehistoric life to audiences across the country.

In 1951, after retirement from museums, he painted his last work, a mural for the Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Two years later, he died in Manhattan.

Because Knight worked in an era when new and often fragmentary fossils were coming out of the American west in quantity, not all of his creations were based on solid evidence; dinosaurs such as his improbably-adorned Agathaumas (1897: left) for example, were somewhat speculative.  His depictions of better-known ceratopsians as solitary animals inhabiting lush grassy landscapes were largely imaginative (the grasslands that feature in many of his paintings didn't appear until the Cenozoic and Ceratopsians are known to have been gregarious animals). Although Knight sometimes made musculoskeletal studies of living animals, he did not do so for his dinosaur restorations, and he restored many dinosaurs with typical reptilian-like limbs and narrow hips (Paul, 1996).

An homage to the painter was made in the IMAX feature film,T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous,  in which he was portrayed by actor Tuck Milligan.  


Source:
Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_R._Knight

Footnote: 1) Alexander Sherman, "Charles Knight: Prehistoric Visions of a Beloved Muralist",  In the Field, 2002 Field Museum


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter and sculptor of animals, birds and fossils, and also a lithographer, WPA muralist, art writer, distinguished paleontologist and lecturer on prehistoric man and animals, Charles Robert Knight was based in New York City.  He studied at the Art Students League where he was a student of George deForest Brush and Frank Vincent DuMond.  He also studied at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

Exhibition venues include the Art Institute of Chicago, 1907, 1916; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual, 1908, 1922; Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1908; and Salons of America, 1928

Among his writings were "Prehistoric Life" for National Geographic Magazine,1940 and books titled Before the Dawn of History,1935; and Life Through the Ages, 1946. 

His work is exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoological Park.  The papers of the artist are in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, having been donated by his grand daughter, Rhoda Knight Kalt.


Sources include:
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
http://www.si.edu/archives/archives/findingaids/fa03-134.htm

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Charles Knight is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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