Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Daniel Ridgway-Knight: An American in Rolleboise

Among my favorite artists is the American Naturalist painter Daniel Ridgway-Knight. Something about his paintings just makes me want to look, and look again. You won't find turmoil in them, nor will you find pain or sadness. He painted beautiful French landscapes peopled with peasants of the time.

As pretty as the landscapes are, it is the human figures that are the most striking. It takes little imagination to surmise that they lead difficult lives. Yet what Ridgway-Knight presents are quiet moments, peaceful vignettes out of their lives.
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Daniel Ridgway-Knight, circa 1908

Daniel Ridgway-Knight was born in Pennsylvania in 1839. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1858 - 1861 and then traveled to Paris and studied at the Atelier Gleyre and with Cabanel at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1861 - 1863. Knight returned to America to serve in the Army; he met and married Rebecca Webster and in 1871 he and his bride returned to France -where they remained for the rest of their lives.

By 1873 Knight moved to Poissy - a rural area just outside of Paris. It was there that he found the subject matter that would occupy him for the rest of his life - the French farm laborer.

A writer in the May, 1876 edition of the Art Journal writes about Knight's Salon painting entitled The French Washerwomen: "...the figures are drawn with remarkable spirit, and in their delineation much grace of form is show. It is without that artificial feeling which belongs to work where the conventional model is called into requisition." It was this ability to portray the human figure so naturally that made Knight so popular not only in his own lifetime, but even today.

Click on the images below for larger versions.

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"Returning Home"
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"Far Away Thoughts"

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"A Moment Of Rest"
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"A Conversation"

Ridgway-Knight's son, Louis Aston Knight became a reknowned landscape painter in his own right. It is said that they made a bargain, owing to the similarity in their styles, that the son would never paint human figures. Past a certain date, it seems, L.A.Knight painted no human figures. Having seen a few of his paintings I can attest to the fact that the son was a chip off the old pallete!

Daniel Ridgway-Knight's most memorable images come from the time he spent in Rolleboise - after 1896. Here he coupled his beautiful models with the lush landscapes and gardens around his home - creating many of his most highly sought after works.

It is only in his later years that his work seems to begin changing from the naturalist style to a near-impressionist style used by his mentors and friends, such as Pierre August Renoir.

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"Picking Flowers"

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"Shepherdess and her Flock"
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"The Shepherdess of Rolleboise"

From the Art Renewal Center:
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.

He is not my absolute favorite painter, but Daniel Ridgway-Knight is right there, near the top. What do you think?


Brooke said...

Very peaceful. I like it!

WomanHonorThyself said...

You can get lost in them..which is exactly what I needed right now..thanks hun!

benning said...

Less taxing than a Picasso, huh?

Anonymous said...

Very nice, benning. I will have to check more out as it's about time I change my corner photo!

benning said...

Anna, check out ARC for a large collection - 77 images, I think - at

Oh, heck, take a while and surf the site. Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Quite a change up from my olive drabbed world. Beautiful pics.

Off topic: I'm going to get that book, I'm real curious. :)

Anonymous said...

UPDATE: Bought your book.

Joubert said...

Now that's my kind of art. Just beautiful.

kateykakes said...

Absolutely beautiful, benning. I love "The Shepherdess of Rolleboise". It's breathtaking.

camojack said...

Another PA boy, huh? I was going to ask if he's the artist who did the painting you currently have displayed at the top of this here blog, but I see that he is. It would appear that he's done some quite life-like renderings.

I was once an Art Major myself...