Property from a Northern California Private Collection
Daniel Ridgway Knight (American, 1839-1924)
La Vendange signed, dated and inscribed 'D. Ridgway Knight / Paris 1879' (lower right) oil on canvas 33 3/4 x 43 3/4in
PROVENANCE: with Kenneth Lux Gallery, New York
EXHIBITED: Paris, France, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Salon de Paris, 1879. Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, A Pastoral Legacy: Daniel Ridgway Knight & Louis Aston Knight, May 5, 1989-February 28, 1990, n.p., no. 7, illustrated (as The Harvest).
We would like to thank Howard Rehs for confirming the attribution to Daniel Ridgway Knight. This work will be included in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist. A photo-certificate of authenticity from Howard Rehs will accompany this lot.
Daniel Ridgway Knight, born to a Quaker family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1839, did not allow his conservative upbringing to hinder his artistic nature. At the young age of nineteen, Knight enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he was exposed to an array of prominent teachers and talented peers. At this time, during the mid-1850s, the school and its teachings were heavily rooted in the European aesthetic. Students were encouraged to tour Europe and absorb the influence of great painters abroad. Knight heeded this advice and traveled to Paris in 1861, where he attended the École des Beaux-arts and worked with notable artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Charles Gleyre. (William Rau, Nineteenth-Century European Painting: from Barbizon to Belle Époque, p. 164)
In 1863, Knight made an important personal decision. In spite of his success in Paris and the resulting growth to his artistic sphere, Knight returned to America to fight in the looming Civil War. As a Philadelphia native, Knight felt a strong obligation to enlist in the war efforts and protect his native city. While serving with the Union Army through 1865, Knight continued to sketch and draw his surroundings, creating a personal testimony of his wartime experience. His sketchbooks from this period are filled with sketches of fellow soldiers and battlesan exercise that likely acted as an indirect lesson on composition and figure arrangement. Following the war, Knight remained in the United States until 1871 when he married and returned to France where the present work, Le Vendage, was painted.
Upon his return to France, Knight began studying under European painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, a realist painter whose connections would grant the artist entry to the Paris Salon. (W. Rau, Nineteenth-Century European Painting: from Barbizon to Belle Époque, p. 164) By 1873, Knight was living with his family in Poissy, France, west of Paris, and he was actively painting the local peasants and farm hands, for which he is so well-known. Whether these figures were performing their daily duties or taking a wistful moment between tasks, Knight captured the essence of these figures with such grace that he was often accused of romanticizing their position in life. When questioned in 1888 about the sentimentality and romantic notions Knight had for the peasants he depicted, Knight is famously remembered as stating: "These peasants are as happy and content as any similar class in the world. They all save money and are small capitalists and investors. They enjoy life. They work hard, to be sure, but plenty of people do that. They love their native soil. In their hours of ease they have countless diversions; and the women know how to be merry in their hours of toil." (P. Beecher, A Pastoral Legacy: Daniel Ridgway Knight & Louis Aston Knight, n.p.)
Painted in 1879, Le Vendage, characterizes the artist's most exceptional qualities and talents. This large-scale canvas contains a vast assortment of figures, making it a masterwork among the artist's oeuvre. Without rendering these figures as overly sentimental or romantic, Knight captures the uplifting side of this class and their honest enjoyment in life. When one considers that the alternative to field work for a person of similar class in an urban environment was dangerous factory work, the benefits and positive nature of these peasants' situations becomes apparent. The figures in the present work appear to be carrying on joyously with one another, and the children present at right reinforces the aspect of play involved in this seemingly laborious process. Working in groups to harvest grapes for the next vintage, these figures sprinkle the landscape with color and activity, objectives that Knight undoubtedly had in mind when rendering this masterpiece.
Knight's paintings brought him financial success during his lifetime and were immensely popular among his contemporaries. This status, elusive to many of Knight's contemporaries, positioned him as a leader of the American art movement in France. Today, these colorful paintings make up the body of works for which Knight is known and loved.
Please note that the correct medium for this work is oil on canvas laid down on masonite.
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