Daniel Ridgway Knight, American, 1839-1924

Unknown photographer, Daniel Ridgway-Knight in his glass studio in Poissy, France (1892)

His parents were Quakers where he was born in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania. It was a home where you spoke with “thees” and “thous”, with simple manners and inflexible rules. There was a ban on pictures and music and every wall was bare. Daniel, after leaving school in Philadlephia, became an apprentice in a wholesale hardware house. It was under this roof that Daniel began fostering his love of copying in pen and ink engravings from books he borrowed from the Franklin Institute Library. It took him six weeks to complete, every evening. It was sold to his sister for twenty five cents and a bunch of grapes as the story goes! 

Daniel Ridgway Knight owes the start of his professional career to his grandfather who loved looking at his drawings. One day he showed a selection of them to a friend, who insisted on submitting them to dealers and critics. The drawings made the rounds of Philadelphia, and were warmly praised. Unfortunately, Daniel’s father did not agree with his own father and told his son to give up this dream of becoming an artist for it is only a pursuit of stupid fast living people. Thus, Daniel, gave up his apprenticeship and took classes at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  One year was spent in that institution, working from the antique and from life, and the first strictly professional work done was to execute a large number of crayon portraits, life size, during his holidays at Chambersburg. After another season spent at the Academy, Daniel’s father urged him to make painting his life work. He went to Europe and took the best courses available. His parents paid for the trip and he eventually settled in Paris, France, where he entered Gleyre’s Atelier, the largest in Paris. He passed his exams and became a member of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He spent three years of close study, drawing at the Beaux Arts and painting at Gleyre’s, and then passed a winter in Rome studying at the British Academy, returning to America with many portfolios. 

Knight took a studio in his native city, Philadelphia, painted portraits and genre pictures, and conducted a class of female students. It was about this time he married Miss Rebecca Morris Webster and another study period in Europe. He secured a number of orders for pictures from prominent Philadelphians, and had the funding for extended residence abroad. He and his young wife reached Paris in 1871, when the city was still suffering from the effects of the Commune. Paris held little attraction for him and shortly after the birth of his eldest son, in 1873, he moved with his family to Poissy, a pretty, picturesque town on the banks of the Seine, where lived the great French artist Meissonier. They soon became fast long time friends and Knight would refer to him as Master. With his Master’s steady council, Knight remained in Poissy painting large pictures of local scenery. Knight chose his models from the peasant girls from the suburbs of Paris. He painted over 20 paintings in rapid succession and were all exhibited at the Paris Salon. They all represented scenes of Poissy and its neighboring villages. 

Rolleboise Chateau, now a hotel!
As the number of canvases increased, Knight felt the need for variety. He decided to move farther down the river, still keeping the comfortable studios in his Poissy chateau, called Rolleboise, a tiny village between Nancy and Vernon. He filled it with rare old furniture, tapestries and bric a brac. Half of Rolleboise is located on the bank of the Seine and the other half is on the hillside. He kept a glass studio here with a view of the plains and woods. 

Louis Aston Knight (son of Daniel Ridgway Knight)
 Louis Aston Knight (1873-1948)

 It is at Rolleboise that (Louis) Aston Knight, eldest son and also a landscape painter, is a constant companion to his father and they both become hermit artists. Mrs. Knight and younger son visit them now and then for days or weeks at a time, and Aston and his father occasionally abandon their work for a month’s residence at Poissy. “La Bergere de Rolleboise,” was painted here and has become one of the most popular paintings.  

At the Paris Salon he was awarded an honorable mention and a gold medal; at Munich he won a gold medal; at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889 he carried off the second medal; he was honored with the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1889 and the Cross of the Order of St. Michael of Bavaria in 1892. He was also awarded a Columbian Medal at Chicago in 1893; a second medal at Antwerp and Grand Medal of Honor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at Philadelphia.

The Shepherdess of Rolleboise by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1896, Oil on Canvas, Brooklyn Museum, NYC