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A Rustic Couple

Not on view

A Rustic Couple

Artist: Daniel Ridgway Knight (American, 1840-1924; active in France)

Date: after 1872
Medium: Graphite on tan-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 9 3/4 x 5in. (24.8 x 12.7cm)
Inscribed: Recto, lower left (graphite): "DRK"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 88.55.1
Text Entries

This drawing may be a study for a lost painting by Knight. Its subject matter suggests it was probably made sometime after Knights seminal trip in the summer of 1874 to Barbizon, the home of Jean Francois Millet.(1) At this time Knight began to paint plein air scenes in the manner of Jules Breton, Léon Lhermitte, and Jules Bastien- Lepage.(2) He quickly gained fame and commercial success making pictures of French peasants that did not appear to contain the threatening political overtones some people saw in the rural laborers painted by Courbet and Millet.(3) One sympathetic critic noted that Knight “has a natural tendency to see nature under an amiable and smiling aspect, and he certainly finds . . . peasant girls far more goodly to look upon than the coarse and heavy peasants whom Millet has painted, digging and delving, toiling and moiling, resigned and joyless.”(4)

Knight was known during his lifetime as a talented draftsman.(5) This is apparent in the MWPI drawing, which was executed with great skill and assurance. The focus of the two figures’ attention is the rope they are both holding, which Knight may have intended to lead to a farm animal. Another drawing by Knight in the Corcoran Gallery of Art also shows a woman and a man holding a rope that presumably was intended to lead to some type of livestock.(6) In both drawings Knight included the sun or moon in the upper right corner of the design.(7)

The two crisply drawn figures in the MWPI drawing have an iconic monumentality that is similar to what Millet achieved in his 1863 etching Peasants Going to Work. Knight’s compatriot, Winslow Homer, achieved a comparable monumentality in his 1867 painting, Girl with Pitchfork.(8) However, whatever similarity there is between Knight’s drawing and Homer’s painting probably has more to do with the French influences both men were responding to than with Homer’s direct influence on Knight.


1. David Sellin, Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860-1910 (Phoenix, Ariz.: Phoenix Art Museum, 1982), 33.

2. For an overview of Knights career see the essay by Ridgway B. Knight in Pamela Beecher, A Pastoral Legacy: Paintings and Drawings by the American Artists Ridgway Knight and Aston Knight (Ithaca, N.Y.: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 1989), unpaginated. For Knight’s relationship to Naturalism see Gabriel P. Weisberg, Beyond Impressionism: The Natural Impulse (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1992), 157-59.

3. Robert L. Herbert, “City vs. Country: The Rural Image in French Painting From Millet to Gauguin,” Artforum 8 (February 1970): 46-48; Albert Boime, “The Second Empire’s Official Realism,” in The European Realist Tradition, ed. Gabriel P. Weisberg (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 97-99; Gabriel P. Weisberg, “Jules Breton and Léopold Robert: The Poetic Vision of Rustic Life,” Arts 58 (December 1983): 110. See also James Thompson, “The Peasant in 19th Century France (1840-1914),” in The Peasant in French 19th Century Art (Dublin: The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, 1980), 17-43.

4. Theodore Child, “Daniel Ridgway Knight,” Art Amateur 12 (1885): 105.

5. Child, “Knight,” 101, 104, 105.

6. Linda Crocker Simmons, American Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels and Collages in the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1983), 86, no. 546.

7. Knight may have copied this from Breton. There are several examples of Breton's use of this motif illustrated in Hollister Sturges, Jules Breton and the French Rural Tradition (Omaha, Nebr.: Joslyn Art Museum, 1982).

8. This painting is in The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. See John Wilmerding, Winslow Homer (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972), 50, 76.


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