The Ideals of Rustic Life from Daniel Ridgway Knight

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Daniel Ridgway Knight

The term genre painting was originally meant to demean those who focused the subject of their art on one particular setting, object, or idea. It was used to dismiss these types of painters in eighteenth century France by critics that felt that art should only express grand ideals. Today, genre painting means scenes of everyday life, ordinary people going about their lives, still life, landscapes, historic events, and so on. Attention is focused on the little details of settings and individuals to celebrate what is usually overlooked.

Daniel Ridgway Knight’s paintings of French peasant women fall under the category of genre painting. These bucolic scenes depict a vision of peaceful lives consisting of picking apple blossoms and washing clothes in sunlit waters. These works celebrate the simple joy found in hard work and the ideals of rustic life.

Like his work, Daniel Ridgway Knight had a humble background. Born in Philadelphia to a Quaker family, it is little wonder that Knight was able to fully understand the nuances of rural life. While his family had hoped that he would go on to work in a local hardware store, art called to Knight. He went on to study painting at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1858 with the likes of Everett Shinn and Mary Cassatt. A classmate originally from France, Lucien Grapon, filled Knight’s imagination with the romance of studying art in Paris. The first of his peers to travel to France, Knight soon became a student at Atelier Gleyre and befriended Impressionist painters Sisley and Renoir. When the Civil War began, Knight returned to America and enlisted.

Daniel Ridgway Knight

Hailing the Ferry | The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Enlistment did not end Daniel Ridgway Knight’s love for art. He continued to study and, eventually, teach painting. After marrying one of his students in 1871, he returned to France and became fascinated by the simple lives of pheasant women. This subject matter became the focus of his career and made him a recognizable genre painter. His painting Hailing the Ferry won the third gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1888 and became one of the most reproduced prints of the time.

Daniel Ridgway Knight preferred to work plein air, painting outdoors in natural lighting, from his cottage in Poissey. This emersion gave him a grasp for the landscape he would set all his scenes in. He depicted the pheasant women as industrious, but engaged in leisurely tasks. There is no sense of suffering in these works. The women are as lovely as the countryside in which they are working. The scenery is green, sunny, and bordered by still water – a sense of tranquility and calm permeates each detail.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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