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Daniel Ridgway Knight: America's Forgotten Painter

Updated on July 3, 2012
Summer Evening
Summer Evening

While America isn't historically known for it's artists, there are some that have excelled and been famous in their time. Benjamin West and Charles Wilson Peale were known for their historical paintings and portraits of Founding Fathers and early presidents, as well as their students who followed with a similar style of art. Daniel Ridgway Knight, an artist highly successful in his day, aspired to be one of the historical painters that made America's scenes famous. But his life and style ended up taking a distinctly different direction, and he spent most of his life in France painting it's people and scenes.

Knight was born in 1839 in Philadelphia to a strict Quaker family and worked from an early age in a hardware store. However, he chose to study art instead of continuing in that line of work, beginning in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where several of his fellow students were destined to become famous. Knight next moved to Paris to study painting at the Atelier Gleyre and while there fell in love with the Parisian culture and befriended several prominent Impressionist painters, including Pierre Auguste Renoir.

A Lovely Thought
A Lovely Thought

The beginning of the American Civil War called Knight back from Paris to enlist, and the following ten years were spent in Philadelphia. During his enlistment he was constantly practicing, mastering the art of capturing faces and expressions while also sketching battlefields and historical scenes. Though he aspired to be appreciated for his historical paintings like so many of the great American artists before him, Knight wasn't yet famous enough so made a living painting portraits and teaching art lessons.

After his marriage in 1871 to a student, Rebecca Webster, the Knights honeymooned in Paris not realizing that they would never return to America. With over fifty years left to his career, Knight loved France so much that he never looked back but chose instead to focus on the French peasantry, especially young women, as his subject matter.

Cutting Roses
Cutting Roses
A Passing Conversation
A Passing Conversation

Clients were always on his waiting list to claim a painting of the idyllic French countryside with it's native peasants in various work, leisure, or social activities. The studio he worked in was a glass house looking over a garden and the Seine river. The setting was frequently included in his paintings since it affored him the opportunity to observe the beautiful area in every season and to work in an outdoor environment, even in winter.

Though Knight lived and worked in France during the Impressionistic period and befriended many of the artists in that school, his style was never influenced by them very much. In his later years some of his paintings got a bit closer to that style, but he was still very much a realist in his work.

Maria and Madeleine Fishing
Maria and Madeleine Fishing
Normandy Maid
Normandy Maid
Daniel Ridgway Knight
Daniel Ridgway Knight

More of Knight's works can be seen here, as well as thousands of other artist's works.

In his lifetime Knight became an acclaimed painter in many respects, winning various international acknowledgements. Medals and awards in Munich, Paris, and his hometown, Philadelphia all came later in his career, and he was knighted as an officer in the Legion of Honor in 1889.

Daniel Ridgway Knight died in March of 1924 in Paris, the city that he had chosen as his home.



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    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image


      6 years ago from Arizona

      What beautiful paintings! I am stunned and can't believe I hadn't heard of him before! Thank you for introducing me.

    • collegatariat profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks for the visit whowas! I would love to find somewhere where these are on display near where I live, but haven't yet. It was hard to pick which ones to include in the hub since there were lots to be seen at, which is an excellent source for thousands of artists.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks, collegatariat, for introducing me to this splendid artist!

      I have to confess that I had never heard of him before. Even reproduced like this on the computer screen, the clarity and use of light shines through these works. Very beautiful stuff indeed.

      I should very much like to see some of these painting in real life.

      Thanks again - a wonderful tribute to a great artist who certainly deserves to be better known.

    • collegatariat profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the kind comment and voting dragonflyfla! It's been interesting to research and realize how little America has appreciated her visual artists in the past. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • dragonflyfla profile image

      Joy Campbell 

      7 years ago from South Florida

      Thanks for writing about this important American artist. It is a shame so many of our first artist had to leave the states to gain recognition. One of our first John S. Copley was recognized when he sent a painting of a "Boy with a Squirrel” to Benjamin West who at the time was in London. This led to his move to England. Voting you up and interesting. :-)


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