Daniel Ridgway Knight was an American born artist who became very prominent working in France. He became famous for his paintings of day-to-day peasant life. They were depicted in a rather happy and content life, as opposed to often pessimistic, and hardship-plagued perspectives of peasantry provided by other artists, such as Jean-Francois Millet, who was also an influence to Knight's artwork.
Daniel Ridgway Knight was born in March 1839 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In his early life, Knight studied at the Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts, where he had Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt as classmates.
In 1861, Knight moved to France and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts of Paris, under distinguished painter Alexandre Cabanel; he was also apprenticed by Charles-Gabriel Gleyre in his atelier. In 1863, Knight would return to Philadelphia to serve the Union Army. While fighting in the war, Knight often practiced capturing human emotion and facial expressions through sketching his brothers in arms. His artwork was also significant as historical documents, for he also sketched several battle scenes.
Knight was one of the earliest members of the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he often showed works that depicted scenes from Opera, mythology, and the Civil War. In 1871, he married Rebecca Morris Webster. After the wedding, Knight would begin to focus his work on portrait painting, in order to return to France, since portraiture was a rather more lucrative field.
Knight returned to France in 1872. Once settled, he became friends with Alfred Sisley, William Wordsworth, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, all of whose became influences to Knight's artwork. Later, he worked in Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier's private studio. Knight would later move to Rolleboise, where he established himself in his new home and studio. He would build a glass studio outside his house, which enabled him to paint outside even in the coldest days of winter.
One of Knight's favorite painting subjects was mostly peasant women in the outdoors, which became hugely acclaimed and his "trademark". One of these paintings, the Un Deuil, exhibited in 1882 at the Paris Salon, brought Knight his first major recognition. He would receive several awards throughout his life.
Knight was awarded the third class medal at the 1888 Salon for Hailing the Ferry and a gold medal at the same year's Munich Exhibition. He also received a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1889, Paris. In 1893, he was Knighted in the Royal Order of St.Michael of Bavaria, in Munich. He also received the highest honor from the French government, the Legion of Honour, and became an officer in 1914. In 1896, he was awarded the Grand Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.