- The Melancholy Landscape of Ralph Albert Blakelock 's Life [Biography]
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Ralph Albert Blakelock

At a time when nearly every American artist of any consequence was expected to study in Europe, one in particular did not. In fact he didn't study anywhere in particular. He was primarily self-taught. Instead of heading across the sea, Ralph Blakelock headed west. Already an accomplished landscape painter, exhibiting in the National Academy of Design, he set off in 1869 for the West, visiting Utah, Nevada, California, Wyoming, and Colorado. Long after he returned to New York, he continued to draw upon sketches and memories of this adventure for most of his subject matter. Blakelock's work is characterised by a moody, mysterious appearance, often depicting night scenes, such as his Moonlight, Indian Encampment of 1889.

Born in 1849, the son of a New York physician, his romantic landscapes, often featuring a silhouetted foreground of various bitumen pigments (coal tar), which darkens with age. His work often exhibited heavy impasto painting that was at the same time delicate and elegant against the strongly contrasting background of moonlight and water, reminiscent of the work of the English pre-impressionist, J.M.W. Turner. With a large family to support, Blakelock's work did not find a ready market in the East, contributing to a series of endless financial woes that eventually led to a mental breakdown. He was institutionalised in 1891.

Yet, like van Gogh in France, at about the same time, he could not stop painting. And even though supplies were scarce, his output did not diminish. Often reduced to painting on cardboard, fragments of window shades, or wallpaper, he continued to create his beloved landscapes. Strangely enough, after a time, his work began to attract critical attention and purchases. With this came an increase in prices and ironically, a virtual flood of forgeries. It's been documented that there are now more forgeries of his work than originals. Ralph Blakelock was released from the mental institution in 1916. He died a year later.

contributed by Lane, Jim

5 August 2001

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