Ralph A. BlakelockU.S. 1847-1919
Ralph Blakelock has been characterized as a ninetenth-century romantic, a tragic artist, who died in poverty after being confined to an asylum. Along with Albert Pinkham Ryder, Blakelock represented, to many early twentieth-century critics, the most authentic American expression of their time. These were artists, they said, that were untainted by European influence, both in their methods and in their minds. Blakelock was a self-taught artist who initially sought to paint in a Hudson River School style, but the grand vistas of wilderness scenery did not appeal to him. Instead he sought a more intimate landscape of lonely and isolated environments. Rather than go to Europe which was usually expected of an artist, Blakelock chose to go west, traveling between 1869 and 1872 through pioneer towns and Indian encampments all the way to the Isthmus of Panama. Blakelock created poetic views of isolated and lonely settings that resulted from these travels. His small, moody paintings did not find many buyers. Without a dealer and with little opportunity to exhibit, Blakelock was forced to sell his work to unscrupulous dealers at lower and lower prices to support his wife and eight children. In 1899, he suffered a breakdown and was institutionalized, an event, ironically enough, that caused his canvases to begin to sell. Although his family did not benefit from his increasing reputation and esteem, Blakelock's tragic story became well-known to the public. The National Academy, which had previously ignored his work, elected Blakelock to Associate and then full membership. He died in the asylum at the age of 72, impoverished.
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