Daniel Ridgway Knight was born into a strict Quaker family from Philadelphia in 1839. He was destined to either work in a local hardware store or in his uncle’s ship building company, but instead, his love of art prevailed. In 1858, with the help of his grandfather, he enrolled in the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. At the Academy, he shared classes with Mary Cassatt, Earl Shinn, Thomas Eakins, among others, and became deeply connected with a generation of artists who would come to influence American art. In early 1861, to perfect his training, Ridgway Knight sailed to France, attended the École des Beaux-Arts and entered the studio of Charles-Gabriel Gleyre. During his time in Paris, Ridgway Knight made friends with such avant-garde artists as Renoir and Sisley. He also took trips to the artist colony of Barbizon to deepen his knowledge of plein air painting. He returned to America when the Civil War broke out to fight for his native city of Philadelphia. While not engaged in combat, Ridgway Knight made sketches of battle scenes as well as portraits of his fellow soldiers. At the end of the war, he opened his own studio in Philadelphia and earned a living painting commissioned portraits. He also founded the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he showed works featuring the Civil War and mythological subjects.
After the end of the Paris Commune, the newly married Ridgway Knight returned to his beloved Paris, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He and his wife settled in Poissy in the suburbs of Paris, in a house adjacent to Ernest Meissonier’s, his friend and fellow artist. To ensure that he was able to capture the true colors of the daylight in its natural surroundings, while protected from the elements, he built a glass-enclosed studio. This greenhouse-like studio also served to recreate the bright idealized scenes of peasant life Ridgway Knight became known for. Like the French artist Jules Breton, he opted for a style that focused on the joys of the countryside and dignity of the peasants.
In the mid-1890’s, Daniel Ridgway Knight signed a contract with Knoedler & co, the prominent New York based art dealer. Through Knoedler’s savvy marketing strategies, Ridgway Knight’s paintings became highly sought-after among American collectors in search of idealized images of peasant life.
Now a wealthy man, Ridgway Knight purchased a second house in Rolleboise, some forty kilometers down river from Poissy. Overlooking the Seine and the countryside, Ridgway Knight’s new house and with its colorful flower gardens became the primary source and subject of his later works.