Louis Aston Knight | Questroyal

Louis Aston Knight (1873–1948)

Realist Painter of Bucolic Landscapes

By Amy Spencer

Louis Aston Knight, an American artist who spent most of his life in France, was particularly talented at depicting the shimmering effect of light on water.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resource

I. Biography

Louis Aston Knight is an artist who, with an American lineage and European upbringing, painted the natural world without inhibition or pretension. Knight was not self-conscious in a quest to define a unique “school” of art, rather his agenda was simple: to paint “nature as it is.”1

Knight was born in Paris in 1873 to Daniel Ridgeway Knight and Rebecca Morris Webster. His father was an American expatriate artist who had moved to Paris in 1872, earning critical acclaim for his realistic paintings of peasant life. Knight had two brothers, Charles, who worked as an architect, and Raymond, who was an aviator.

Knight grew up in the Cháteau de Poissy, fifteen miles west of Paris. In 1887, he began attending boarding school at Chigwell in Essex, England. During his summer holidays, Knight would return to France and take sketching trips with his father throughout Normandy and Brittany.

Upon his graduation in 1891, Knight returned to France where he studied drawing and painting at the Académie Julian. His teachers included Jules Lefebvre and Tony Robert-Fleury. Knight also continued to take instruction from his father, Ridgeway Knight. Knight progressed quickly under his father’s tutelage and debuted at the Paris Salon in 1894 at age twenty-one.

Knight distinguished himself through his skill with watercolor early on. A reviewer from The New York Times noted in 1905, “In water colors . . . Mr. Aston Knight has found his best medium so far. He is more individual here.”2 Knight also identified his style as separate from his father’s by adopting a slightly more spontaneous technique, utilizing bold brushstrokes in an impressionistic manner. Furthermore, while Ridgeway Knight often depicted people in his landscapes, his son’s landscapes often omitted these figures.

In 1900, Knight’s watercolor The Riverside Path (whereabouts unknown) received a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle. Knight was then awarded an honorable mention at the Paris Salon in 1901. He followed this with gold medals won at Rheims, Cherbourg, Lyons, Geneva, and Nantes. In 1905 and 1906, Knight was awarded two more gold medals at the Paris Salon, making him hors concours. This title meant Knight’s work was welcomed into any future Salon exhibition without having to pass the normal selection process.

During this period of early recognition, Knight spent much of his time painting on a yacht travelling up and down the Seine River with a crew of fellow artists. In early 1907, Knight met Caroline Ridgeway Brewster, a distant cousin from Rochester, New York, while she was traveling through Europe with her mother. Knight returned to America with Caroline in October, and they married in Somerville, New Jersey. The couple settled in Paris and had three children together between 1911 and 1913.

Knight spent most of his life before 1940 living in France with his family; however, he exhibited frequently in America where the press considered him an American “by blood and law.”3 Knight also maintained an apartment in New York City where he lived with his family for the duration of World War I.

Knight returned to France in 1919 and purchased a Normandy country home at Beaumont-le-Roger. This brick and stone cottage and its surrounding garden and brook became a great source of inspiration for many of Knight’s paintings. Several images of the stream were painted while Knight was standing waist-deep in the water, earning him the nickname “The Man in the High-Water Boots” by Scribner’s.4 While living at Beaumont-le-Roger, Knight came to know Claude Monet who lived thirty miles away in Giverny. Knight was obviously influenced by Monet’s subject matter, although his more linear style is considered more closely related to the Norwegian impressionist Frits Thaulow.

During the 1920s, Knight had several exhibitions in New York City at the John Levy Galleries. He also had a private showing for President Calvin Coolidge at the White House. His popularity in the United States was further enhanced when, in 1922, President Warren G. Harding purchased Knight’s The Afterglow for the White House collection.

In 1930, Knight traveled to California for the first time. He traveled up and down the coast around San Francisco, painting sea views and coastal gardens. Knight also took painting trips to Jamaica and Haiti, and throughout the Midwest of America. In June 1940, after the fall of France during World War II, Knight and his wife moved permanently to New York City. In August 1944, the American Air Force destroyed Knight’s house at Beaumont-le-Roger during a bombing operation intended to cut off the German retreat. Shortly after learning of the destruction of his home, Knight had a stroke. He painted infrequently during the following years before dying in 1948.

Throughout his career, Knight liked to work outdoors in the natural light, and he was consistently praised for his ability to “catch the trick of running water.”5 Both European and American audiences embraced his paintings for their frank directness and universal subjects.

American publications praised Knight’s achievements as exemplary of American artistic excellence overseas, while the French government recognized Knight’s accomplishments by promoting him to a commander of the Legion of Honor in 1934.

II. Chronology

1873 Born in Paris
1887 Attends Chigwell School in England
1890 Father begins teaching him to paint
1891 Studies for eight years at the Académie Julian under Tony Robert-Fleury and Jules Lefebvre
1894 Debuts at the Paris Salon
1900 Wins bronze medal at the Paris World Fair
1901 Wins honorable mention at the Paris Salon
1905 Wins third class gold medal at the Paris Salon
1906 Wins second class gold medal (first class medal reserved for a Frenchman) at the Paris Salon and earns the title Hors concours (meaning Knight’s work is considered admissible to any future Salon exhibition without going through the normal selection process)
1907 Marries Caroline Ridgeway Brewster in Somerville, New Jersey
Travels to Venice in the fall (repeats this trip annually for the next eight years)
1911 Son, Ridgeway Brewster Knight, is born
Travels to America for the first time, visiting New York City
Over next three years takes many painting trips around England
1912 Daughter, Diane, is born
1913 Son, George William Knight, is born
Travels to New York City
1915 Moves with family to the United States for the duration of World War I
1919 Returns to France
1920 Buys an estate at Beaumont-le-Roger in the Normandy region of France
1922 President Warren G. Harding purchases Knight’s The Afterglow for the White House collection
1924 Made Knight of the Legion of Honor
1928 Made Officer of the Legion of Honor
1930 Takes a trip to California
1934 Made Commander of the Legion of Honor
1936 Takes a trip to Jamaica and Haiti
1940 Moves to America for the remainder of his life
1948 After a long illness dies in New York City on May 8

III. Collections

Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, IN
Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY
Mattatuck Historical Society, Waterbury, CT
Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Westmoreland Museum of Art, Greensburg, PA

IV. Exhibitions

1894 The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1896 Champs Elysees Salon, Paris
1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, Paris
1901 The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1904 “Exhibition of Works by Modern European Painters acquired by Mr. Henry Reinhardt,” Toledo Museum, OH
1905 Knoedler and Company, New York
The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1906 The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
“Reinhardt Exhibition,” Toledo Museum, OH
1907 “Fourth Annual Henry Reinhardt Exhibition,” Toledo Museum, OH
1908 The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1909 Knoedler and Company, New York, NY
“Henry Reinhardt Collection,” Toledo Museum, OH
1910 The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1911 Knoedler and Company, New York, NY
The Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1917 John Levy Galleries, New York, NY
1918 Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY
1922 John Levy Galleries, New York, NY
1927 John Levy Galleries, New York, NY
1931 John Levy Galleries, New York, NY
“Exhibition of Landscapes by Aston Knight,” Biltmore Salon, Los Angeles
1989 “A Pastoral Legacy: Paintings and Drawings by the American Artists Ridgeway Knight and Aston Knight,” Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Christie’s, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL; and The Dixon Gallery, Memphis, TN

V. Memberships

American Club of Paris
First Chairman, American Artists Professional League
Cercle de l’Union Artistique
Grand Officer, Dragon of Annam
Commander, Etoile Noire of Benin
Commander, Honneur et Patrie of Haiti
Commander, Legion of Honor of France
Metropolitan Club of New York
Knight, Mutialite and Merite Agricole of France
Commander, Orders of Ouissam Allouite of Morocco
Sons of the American Revolution

VI. Notes

World Herald, March 4, 1936; quoted in Pamela Beecher, A Pastoral Legacy: Paintings and Drawings by the American Artists Ridgeway Knight and Aston Knight (Ithaca, N.Y.: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 1989), p. 13.
“Pictures by Aston Knight: An American Educated in France Paints Like Briton,” The New York Times, November 19, 1905.
“News and Notes of the Art World,” The New York Times, December 26, 1909.
F. Hopkinson Smith, “The Man in the High-Water Boots,” Scribner’s (June 1907: 641–652.
“Pictures by Aston Knight: An American Educated in France Paints Like Briton,” The New York Times, November 19, 1905.

VII. Suggested Resources

Beecher, Pamela, A Pastoral Legacy: Paintings and Drawings by the American Artists Ridgeway Knight and Aston Knight. Ithaca, N.Y.: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 1989.

Email or share this artist