Farquhar McGillivray Knowles was born in 1859 in Syracuse, New York. His family moved to Canada settling in Guelph, Ontario. He studied at West Point military academy, pursuing a career in the military. However in his fourth year he was involved in an accident which ended his millitary career.
He went to New York, and studied art under William Merritt Chase. Upon his return to Canada he studied under artist John A. Fraser.
In 1889 Knowles was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy.
In 1893 He exhibited at Canada's pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair.
He spent two years in London with his second wife, then four years in Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian under the respected artists, such as Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant.
Once they returned to Canada, Knowles and his wife, an artist herself, opened an art academy specializing in painting, design, ceramics and life classes. Their personal studio became a social-centre where many Toronto artists would gather.
In 1916 Knowles spent a year painting the New York harbour from his yacht. His wife joined him and they took up residence in New York City in 1920. They returned to Canada often participating in important exhibitions including Royal Canadian Academy annuals.
During his lifetime Knowles was known for his marine paintings and watercolours.
He died in 1932.