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Ralph A. Blakelock   Click Images to Enlarge

Ralph A. Blakelock

(American, 1847-1919)

Blakelock, an exponent of the Hudson River School of painting and the American West, is world-famous for having painted mood over representation in Southwest and Far West landscapes animated with Indians from 1869-1872 and for creating mysterious, haunting moonlit Adirondack and White Mountain landscapes that foreshadowed romantic, visionary tendencies that came 30 years later.

Blakelock was the son of an accomplished English-born NY physician. At the age of 17, he entered the Free Academy of the City of New York (1864) interested in art and music (piano) and graduated from the College of the City of NY. In 1866, he left the Academy to paint landscapes and called himself "self taught," although he studied briefly at Cooper Union. A year later (1867) he exhibited emotion-filled Barbizon-colored paintings at the National Academy of Design (NY), where he was ultimately elected. In 1869 he rejected an offer to study in Europe to go via horseback to the West to live among Indians and paint the Rockies, the Sierra Nevadas and eventually cityscapes in San Francisco and Oakland. Although his journey from California, through Mexico to Panama and the West Indies is sketchy, he painted 100s of views of Indian

Encampments (1869-1872) and painted in layers, scraping them away with a knife. He also developed a unique signature of R.A. Blakelock and encircled it with an arrowhead outline.

Blakelock believed an artist should paint from the intellect, experiences and emotions to interpret nature, not depend on a replication of details.

Blakelock returned to New York City (ca. 1876) and painted romanticism with a loose palette that imitated the French Impressionists but his use of dark somber colors seemed to be influenced by the Barbizon school. In 1877 he married and became somewhat well known for moody, nocturnal scenes depicting trees silhouetted against a luminous sky. Because his style was "foreign" to what patrons considered collectible, Blakelock lived for years in abject poverty with his wife and nine children and jumped at the chance to sell 33 paintings to a NY dealer for $100. As dealers took advantage of Blacklock, he became despondent and increasingly eccentric and the day his ninth child was born came his mental collapse. The goal to earn enough money upon which to live became too stressful, the artist became overly violent, was moved to an asylum in Middletown, NY (1899), was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic and incarcerated for 20 years, left to paint on paper images of the money that had eluded him.

Although Blakelock sold Brook at Midnight to a dealer for less than $10, in 1916 the Toledo Art Museum purchased it for a reported $20,000 and the public considered Blakelock in vogue. The artist still lived in an asylum and his family in a one-room shack in a Catskill ravine. Blakelock's daughter Marian began to paint landscapes and when her work was signed with her father’s signature by a NY dealer, she ended up in an asylum in 1915. Tragically, until 1916 Blakelock lived in an asylum and was re-hospitalized frequently until his August 9, 1919 death. Although in 1913 he sold a painting for $13,900, he never fully realized his art work was selling for thousands of dollars or knew he had been accepted as an American painting master. At the time of his death, he was considered the most famous artist in America.