Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in Philadelphia to Quaker parents in 1839. He began studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1858 to 1861, alongside classmates Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Howard Roberts, and Lucien Crepon. Crepon had been to Paris and inspired Knight to study there. In 1861, he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There he worked under Charles Gleyre, along with other artists such as Pierre Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.
He returned to Philadelphia in 1863 to serve in the Union Army. While in the army, he would continue to sketch battle scenes and put particular focus on facial expressions. After the Civil War, Daniel Knight painted portraits and genre scenes until he saved enough money to return to France. He founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club and showed works from the Civil War, mythology, and scenes from opera. He finally returned to France in 1871 and would not return to the United States. In 1872, Knight began studying under the realist painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, who would direct him to the peasant subject he would be known for in Art History. He continued to be friends with Renoir, Sisley, as well as Wordsworth. Influences of these people can be seen in his work. Meissonier assisted Knight in getting accepted to the prestigious Paris Salon in 1875.
During the 1870’s and 1880’s, Daniel Ridgway Knight painted peasant girls at work in the field’s or doing daily chores with subdued light and color and acute attention to detail. He also moved to Poissy, a small village on the Seine. He continued to work with Meissonier and built a glass studio in his garden so he could work in natural light even when the weather turned cold. By the late 1890’s, Knight moved to Rolleboise and painted the garden scenes that were to put his work in high demand.
Knight gives his paintings a strong sense of reality by using intense colors in the foreground against a more subdued background. He uses color vs light and shadow to define the transition between compositional elements. He uses light to convey the mood of the scene.
Daniel Ridgway Knight’s paintings were highly sought after in his day and continue to be widely collected. Knight won several prestigious awards throughout his career including, the Third Gold Medal, Paris Salon 1888, the Gold Medal, Munich Exposition 1888, the Silver Medal, Paris Exposition 1888. He was knighted in the Legion of Honor in 1889 and become an officer in 1914. In 1896, he received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was also awarded the Gold Medal, Columbian Exposition 1893 and the Gold Medal, Antwerp Exposition 1894.
He died in Paris in 1924. His son, Louis Aston Knight, is also a known landscape painter.