“It sounds like a paradox, but it is a very simple truth that when to-day we look for ‘American art’ we find it mainly in Paris. When we find it out of Paris, we at least find a great deal of Paris in it.”
-Henry James, 1887
To American collectors, Daniel Ridgway Knight’s beautifully rendered painting of French peasant girls demonstrated that America had arrived culturally. The American wealthy class that emerged from the Civil War emulated European tastes. Attempting to prove that Americans could compete culturally with Europe, artists felt compelled to learn French styles. Knight mastered the academic style; he won many accolades in the French salons as well as popular success for his peasant paintings, was accepted into the 1892 Salon in Paris and was honored as one of the few works to be illustrated in the catalog. Sentimental peasants like these were one of the most popular subjects in the French salons. Knight’s idealized peasant girls inhabit a picturesque landscape untouched by urbanization.