American painter Daniel Ridgway Knight was frequently accused of idealizing the subjects of his popular paintings. Working in direct opposition to his contemporaries, especially the painters of the Barbizon school, Ridgway Knight depicted contented peasants in leisurely pursuits or in moments of utter tranquility. While there may have been some justification for the comments of his peers, Ridgway Knight could reasonably argue for his own perspective, since he lived and worked among the very people he painted. He was frequently asked to be a godfather to the newborn children of his models, and he spent a great portion of his life observing them and getting to know them.
He was born into a Quaker family in Philadelphia in 1839. He displayed obvious artistic talents throughout his childhood years and was sent to the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts at the age of nineteen. His classmates included Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and Howard Roberts among other notables. Upon completion of his studies he headed to Paris where he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and worked in the studio of Charles-Gabriel Gleyre.
In 1864, at the age of twenty five, he returned home to volunteer in the Union Army - an unheard of action for a Quaker. After the war ended he returned to France, and never visited America again. In 1871 he settled in the village of Poissy, near to his friend and mentor Jean Louis Meissonier, who began directing his attention to the local subject matter, and the artistic style known as Realism.
It was during this period that he began to develop his own unique style, focusing on rural scenes populated by happy or restful peasants. He found critical, popular and commercial success almost immediately and would remain a well known painter for the rest of his life.
As he grew older he moved his studio nearer to Paris and continued to use the local people and landscape for his paintings. He died in 1924.
His paintings are in the collections of dozens of famous museums around the world, are frequently included in travelling exhibitions.