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Robert A. Knight, prolific commercial artist, dies at 90

He illustrated the cover of the 1971 Phillies yearbook and painted many scenes of golf courses, including famous holes at Aronimink and Merion Golf Clubs.

Mr. Knight's self portrait features a pensive look. He specialized in landscapes, and scenes from around the Philadelphia area.
Mr. Knight's self portrait features a pensive look. He specialized in landscapes, and scenes from around the Philadelphia area.Read moreCourtesy of the Family

Robert A. Knight, 90, a prolific commercial artist whose portfolio includes sweeping watercolor scenes of Philadelphia-area landscapes, lush golf courses, and vibrant program covers for the Phillies and Liberty Bell Park racetrack, died Monday, Nov. 22, of cancer at his home at the Wellington at Hershey’s Mill retirement community in West Chester.

As a teenager in Elkins Park, Mr. Knight knew he wanted to be an artist. He graduated from La Salle High School in 1948 and trained and graduated from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, now the University of the Arts, in 1953.

He then embarked on an eclectic career that spanned nearly 60 years and featured award-winning commercial illustrations for TV Guide, Girard Bank, Chilton Publishing, Bryn Mawr Trust, and other companies.

An ardent golfer — he and his son played at Walnut Lane Golf Club every week until he couldn’t — Mr. Knight painted dozens of golf scenes from many courses around the country that were reproduced as prints in more than 90 limited editions and marketed around the world.

Most often using photographs as guides, he painted scenes from Augusta National in Georgia, Pebble Beach in California, and other famous courses. His golf paintings for Bridgeport-based Country Club Editions include renderings of the seventh hole at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, the ninth hole at Coatesville Country Club, and the iconic clubhouse at Merion Cricket Club.

“It was like magic,” his son, Robert, said of watching Mr. Knight paint in his home studio. “I could see how talented he was.”

Bill and Leah Vare, the founders of Country Club Editions, hired Mr. Knight as their first artist, and he produced at least one golf course painting a week for years.

“He had an economy of brushstrokes, and the people he put into his scenes looked so natural,” said Leah Vare. “Nobody painted like him, and his work is highly recognizable.”

Mr. Knight also created unique covers for the 1971 Phillies yearbook on the opening of Veterans Stadium and brochures for the now-defunct Liberty Bell Park racetrack. He exhibited his work at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown and other local galleries, was a member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and won awards from the Artists Guild of America and the Art Directors Club of New York.

Born Dec. 28, 1930, in Manhattan, Mr. Knight moved to Elkins Park with his family when he was in middle school. He married and later divorced June Sayland and then married Grace Muir in 1972. His wife and former wife died earlier.

He served two years in the Army after college and lived in East Falls and Haverford before moving to West Chester. Mr. Knight also painted churches and other distinctive buildings, and often donated the pieces to the building owners. “He always had his sketchbook and paints wherever he went,” Vare said.

For many years, he worked by day at his commercial job in the office and then moved to his home studio at night. Well-read with an engaging sense of humor, he liked to tend to his garden and have dinner with friends every Friday night. He worked well into his 70s until his eyesight failed.

“He gave paintings to friends and relatives all the time,” said his son. “He just loved to paint.”

In addition to his son, Mr. Knight is survived by two grandchildren, and other relatives. A brother died earlier.

Services were Saturday, Dec. 4.