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 Daniel Ridgway Knight  (1839 - 1924)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania / France      Known for: peasant figure-genre, landscape painting

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Daniel Ridgway Knight
from Auction House Records.
Brittany Girl Fishing
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An artist known for his depictions of serene, peasant female figures in bucolic landscapes with pristine lighting, Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in Philadelphia and became a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1858 to 1861.

He then studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with academic painters Charles Gleyre and Alexander Cabanel and shared classes with Renoir and Sisley. In 1863, he returned to Philadelphia to enlist in the army during the Civil War.

In 1871, he returned to France and settled in the town of Poissy to be near the renowned academic painter, Jean Louis Meissonier, who directed his artistic focus to peasant figures and influenced him with a richly detailed style of realism. By the mid 1870s, the idealized peasant figures became his signature expression, and his presentation contrasted greatly with the emerging realist movement in French art led by Jean-Francois Millet that focused on the hardships and poverty of rural people.

From 1896, he maintained a studio outside of Paris in Rolleboise, and took his subjects from the surrounding countryside and local people. His work was in high demand both in France and the United States, where he got many awards.

Source:
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
David Michael Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"



Biography from Rehs Galleries, Inc.:
Daniel Ridgway Knight’s works represent many aspects of Nineteenth- Century painting, including history, genre, landscape, portrait, and floral themes. In each work, all that is aesthetic is recorded with fine detail and skill.

In order to faithfully record the scenery, Knight studied the different phases of the day and their effects on the environment. Knight built a glass studio outside of his home, enabling him to paint outdoors, even in the dead of winter. Whether he was concentrating on the evening with the glow of moonlight upon the Seine River or on a young woman in a brightly colored flower garden at midday, each scene is depicted with great detail and with specific attention to a realistic portrayal of the landscape.

Daniel Ridgway Knight was born on March 15,1839 in Pennsylvania. He studied and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a classmate of Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins. In 1861, he went to Paris to study at l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Cabanel, and to apprentice in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel-Gleyre. He returned to Philadelphia in 1863 to serve in the Union Army. During the war, Knight practiced sketching facial expressions and capturing human emotion in his work. He sketched battle scenes, recording the war for history. He founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he showed works that dealt with the Civil War, mythology, and scenes from opera.

In 1871 Knight married Rebecca Morris Webster, and after the wedding he began working as a portrait painter in order to make enough money to return to France. In 1872, once settled in France, Knight befriended Renoir, Sisley, and Wordsworth, all of whose influences can be seen in his work. He also enjoyed a close relationship with Meissonier.

In 1875 he painted a painting called "Wash Day" (35 ½” x 51 ¼”) after a sketch by Meissonier for which he received critical acclaim. Knight was also strongly affected by the works of Jean-Francois Millet. In 1874 while painting in Barbizon, Knight went to visit Millet and found his view of peasant life to be too fatalistic. As opposed to Millet, Knight focused on depicting the rural classes during their happier moments. Other important influences were Bastien-Lepage, with whom he is most often compared, and Jules Breton for his plein-air style.

Knight’s works during the 1870’s and 1880’s focused on the peasant at work in the field’s or doing the day’s chores - collecting water or washing clothes at the riverside. His painting "Hailing the Ferry", painted in 1888 and currently in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, depicts two peasant girls calling for the ferryman on the other side of the river. This work, considered one of the artist’s masterpieces, captures all the elements of his pre-Rolleboise period - the subdued light and color, the finely detailed figures and the artist’s acute attention to detail.

By the late 1890’s, Knight established a home in Rolleboise, some forty miles west of Paris. Here he began to paint the scenes that were to make his work so sought after by contemporary collectors - views of his garden. His home had a beautiful garden terrace that overlooked the Seine - a view he often used in his paintings.

Collectors from across the globe vied for these works, which featured pretty local girls in his garden. Works from this period include "The Roses" currently in the collection of the J.B. Speed Museum and "The Letter" in the Joslyn Art Museum - both of which feature pretty young women surrounded by lush flora.

Knight received a third-class medal at the Salon in 1888 for "Hailing the Ferry" and a Gold Medal at the Munich Exhibition that same year. In 1889 he was awarded a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition and was knighted in the Legion of Honor, becoming an officer in 1914. In 1896 he received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Daniel R. Knight died in Paris on March 9, 1924.

This essay is copyrighted by Rehs Galleries, Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Rehs Galleries, Inc.

Selected works by Daniel Ridgway Knight in U.S. public collections: "The Burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania" (1867) - The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, MD.
"Scene from Faust"-Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ.
"Peasants Lunching in a Field" (1875) - Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA.
"Market at Poissy" (1876)-The Museum at Drexel University, Phil., PA.
"At the Well"(1880)- Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Waiting for the Ferry" (1885) - Heckscher Museum, Huntington, NY
"Noonday Meal" (1887) - Haggin Museum, Stockton, CA.
"Hailing the Ferry" (1888) - Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Phil., PA.
"The Water Carriers" (1892) - Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI.
"The Shepherdess" (1896) - Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.
"The Trysting Place" (n.d.) - Haggin Museum, Stockton, CA.
"Springtime" (n.d.) - Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y.
"The Gossips" (n.d.)-The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA.
"Noonday Meal" (n.d.)-Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA.
"Life is Sweet" (n.d.)-Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.
"Landscape at Swickley PA"(n.d.)-Springville Museum of Art, Springville, UT.
"The Idler" (n.d.) - Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH.
"Girl by a Stream" (n.d.) - Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN.
"Brittany Girl Fishing"(n.d.)-Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL.
"The Roses" (n.d.) - J.B. Speed Museum, Louisville, KY.
"The Letter"-Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NB.
:French Thrift: - Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NB.

Literature:
"Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860-1910", Phoenix Art Museum

"A Pastoral Legacy: Paintings and Drawings by the American Artists Ridgway Knight and Aston Knight, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art Cornell University 1989.

Weinberg, H. Barbara, "The Lure of Paris, Nineteenth Century American Painters and Their French Teachers", Abbeville Press Publishers, N.Y., 1991, Pgs 63-66.

Weisberg, Gabriel P., "Redefining Genre: French and American Painting, 1850-1900", The Trust for Museum Exhibitions, 1995, Pgs. 69-71.

Catalogue for the traveling exhibition: Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Memphis, TN., Sept. - Dec. 1995; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL., Jan. - Feb. 1996; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA., Feb. - April 1996; Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C., May - July 1996

Weisberg, Gabriel P., "Collecting in the Gilded Age: Art Patronage in Pittsburgh, 1890-1910", Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, PA., 1997, Balding + Mansell, Kettering.

Biography from Anderson Galleries, Inc.:
Daniel Ridgway Knight, born into a strict Quaker family in Philadelphia in March 1839, spent much of his teenage years pursuing the artistic talent he so evidently exhibited. At the age of 19, with the support of his grandfather, he managed to attend the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Arts. With classmates such as Mary Cassatt, Helen Corson, Thomas Eakins, Augustus Heaton, Howard Roberts, William Sartain, Earl Shinn and Lucien Crepon, he was well ensconced with a generation that would individually come to influence American Art History of the late 19th century.

Nevertheless Ridgway Knight, primarily inspired by Crepon's descriptions of Paris, sailed for France in early 1861 and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as well as in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel Gleyre. He returned to America in 1864 to fight for his native city of Philadelphia during the American Civil War only to return to France in 1871, where he remained the rest of his life.

Following his return, he began painting rural scenes inspired by peasant figures. Upon meeting Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, he decided to take residence in Poissy. At the age of thirty-five he had finally found his style, and his pictures of country folk at work, or more frequently at rest, in the fields or on the banks of the river Seine, were to bring him fame and success until his death fifty years later. Ridgway Knight's peasants are often absorbed in isolated contemplation, luminous fantasies or idyllic diversions. His peaceful idealization and depiction of the detached tranquility of the peasants are what separate his paintings from those of his Barbizon contemporaries such as Jean-Francois Millet.

Ridgway Knight not only painted these country folk, but also knew them personally. On a number of occasions he was asked to act as a godfather to the children of his models who were sure to receive a handsome gift from him if they were married. Perhaps rather sentimentally, Ridgway Knight viewed peasants as content and happy folk and truly believed that they found peace in their toil. In 1888, when accused of such sentimentality, he told George Sheldon: "These peasants are as happy and content as any similar class in the world. They all save money and are small capitalists and investors. They enjoy life. They work hard, to be sure but plenty of people do that. They love their native soil. In their hours of ease they have countless diversions; and the women know how to be merry in their hours of toil" (R.B. Knight, p. 7).


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