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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Daniel Ridgway Knight

Chrysanthemums, Daniel Ridgway Knight--pretty, but so irrelevant.
Generally speaking, I don't much like Victorian art. Like its counterparts in architecture, fashion, furniture design, and interior décor, I find it the ultimate in fussiness. Moreover, I'm not crazy about decoration for the sake of decoration, nor the pseudo-morality often seen in Victorian painting content. I do find it interesting for the social milieu it reflects, but to me, that way of life, that uptight, overdressed, "prettiness" is so far removed from 21st-century living as to be uncomfortable at best and intolerable at worst. Even worse (if that's possible) are the eclectic compromises made by those who treasure this era in trying to accommodate Victorian antiquarianism into modern-day living. Inevitably, they fail to authentically follow through. It's pretentious to mentally embrace a dollhouse perfection, by pretending to be living in the late 19th-century.
 
The Harvesters Resting, Daniel Ridgway Knight. Millet would have (and did) paint his field hands hard at work.
Now, having imparted that diatribe, let me say that in the case of a few Victorian painters (damned few) I can make exceptions, forgetting about my distastes for the life and times in which they lived, as I admire their quiet, provincial depictions of honest, unpretentious, peasant existence. Perhaps the most typical of that type of painter would be the American artist, Daniel Ridgway Knight. For one thing, though an American, his aesthetic roots were lodged deep in the French soil along the banks of the Siene. Chrysanthemums (top) is a prime example of what I mean. Yes, it's a pretty picture, a pretty maiden, pretty flowers, and a lovely flowing river (undoubtedly the Siene). But it is neither fussy nor pretentious. In 1874, while painting in Barbizon, Knight went to visit the French Realist painter, Jean-François Millet, whose work he admired. However, Knight found Millet's view of peasant life to be too fatalistic. As opposed to Millet, Knight focused on depicting the rural classes in their happier moments.
Knight shows off his innovative, for its time (1885-90) glass studio.
Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in 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, as the American Civil War loomed on the horizon, Knight went to Paris to study at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Cabanel. Later he apprenticed in the atelier of Charles-Gabriel Gleyere (both Victorian academics). In 1863, not one to shrug off his patriotic duties, Knight returned to Philadelphia to serve in the Union Army. During the war, he practiced sketching facial expressions and capturing human emotion in his work. He also sketched battle scenes, recording the war for history.
 
The Burning of Chambersburg, 1867, Daniel Ridgway Knight
After the war, Knight founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he showed works that dealt with the Civil War. A Chambersburg citizen and a Union soldier, Knight decided to pay tribute to the Confederate burning of his city some three years before. By that time he had left the army and set up his studio in Philadelphia. Knight chose not to represent the violence itself, but the effects of it, with the result being a memorable history painting. On July 28, Confederate Brig. Gen. John McCausland demanded a ransom of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency to save the city from being burned to the ground. However, the skeptical town leaders refused to pay it. So two days later, the Confederates fulfilled their threat, although some southern soldiers refused to participate, considering it to be barbaric. The Burning of Chambersburg depicts exhausted Chambersburg civilians who had fled for safety from their burning city in 1864.

Wash Day, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1871 Knight married, and after the wedding, began working as a portrait painter in order to earn enough money to return to France. Nine years after returning to the U.S., Knight had saved enough to buy two steamer tickets back to France. Once settled near Paris, Knight befriended Renoir, Sisley, and Wordsworth, all of whom influenced his work. He also enjoyed a close relationship with Meissonier. In 1875 Knight painted Wash Day after a sketch by Meissonier for which Knight received much critical acclaim.

Food in the fields...
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. Around the mid-1890's, Knight established a home in Rolleboise, some forty miles west of Paris. There he began to paint the scenes that have made him famous and his work so sought-after by contemporary collectors. His home had a beautiful garden terrace that overlooked the Seine--a view he often used in his paintings. Coffee in the Garden (below) is typical of his works during this period. Collectors from around the world vied for these works which featured attractive local girls in his garden.


Coffee in the Garden, Daniel Ridgway Knight
In 1889 Knight was awarded a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition and was knighted in the French 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 in 1924 at the age of eighty-four.

Preparing the Meal, Daniel Ridgway Knight


















Elegant Figures in an Interior,
Daniel Ridgway Knight--Victorian
living looks like oh so much fun,
doesn't it?
























































 

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