October 21, 1874 - April 15, 1953
Charles Robert Knight, paleoartist with artwork featured at the American Museum of Natural History, was born on October 21, 1874 in Brooklyn, New York to George Wakefield and Lucy Anne Knight. During his career Knight mastered the restoration art genre, depicting for viewers prehistoric creatures and landscapes (1). He is credited with painting well-known large murals commissioned by Henry Fairfield Osborn, AMNH paleontologist and the Museum's first curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and later Museum president, whom Knight first met in 1896 (2), beginning an association with the Museum for Knight that would span more than 50 years. Knight's work on canvas and in sculpture can be seen at the AMNH, the Chicago Field Museum, other major institutions around the United States, and in many major scientific and popular publications such as National Geographic (1). In addition to drawing extinct animals, Knight captured on paper and canvas approximately 800 living species.
Though an injury left Knight with blindness in one eye as a young boy, he was educated at the Froebel Academy and by age 12 studied art at the Metropolitan Museum School of Art, the School of Design, The Architectural League, and the Art Students League under several masters including Frank Dumond (3). Knight’s mother died of pneumonia when he was very young and his father remarried in 1882, to Sarah Davis. Knight’s step-mother was an amateur painter who inspired the young Charles and she encouraged his art (4). He showed a strong interest in animals and art at an early age and drew animals from life while observing them at the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo. He also studied anatomy behind the scenes at exhibition preparation and taxidermy at the AMNH (3). He was able to gain access to these Museum activities as his father, George Wakefield, worked for J.P. Morgan, who served in many roles for the Museum and contributed to Museum expeditions and public exhibitions. As early as age 16 Knight was selling artwork to publications.
At age 19 Knight designed stained glass windows for J. and R. Lambs Studio and served as an illustrator for books, newspapers, and magazines including McClure’s, Harpers, Scribners, the Illustrated London News, and the New York Times (3). Knight gained wide recognition when his restoration painting illustrated paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn’s article in an 1896 issue of the Century Magazine discussing fossils discovered in the American West (2). The following year, in 1897, Osborn introduced Knight to Edward Drinker Cope, famous paleontologist whose discoveries inspired Knight’s work depicting dinosaurs as they might have been in life (2), notably among these Dryptosaurus, titled Leaping Laelaps, painted in 1897. Many of Knights’ works were exhibited next to the fossils on display at the Museum. In 1901 Knight married Annie P. Hardcastle and they had a daughter, Lucy Hardcastle Knight (3).
In addition to his restoration work, Knight was also known for his depictions of modern wildlife and early man. He designed the Palmer Memorial Tiger for Princeton, New Jersey (3), elephant head sculptures for the façade at the Elephant House at the then New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo) in 1906, and he designed the Zoo’s logo, as well, which featured a bighorn sheep (1). His work, Cro-Magnon Artists of Southern France, a mural painted for the AMNH in 1920, showed his expertise in depicting early man. He blended artistic talent with scientific knowledge and won the respect of both fellow artists and the scientific community. Charles Robert Knight died at Polyclinic Hospital in New York City on April 15, 1953, at the age of 78.
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