Ralph Albert Blakelock’s visionary landscapes are among the most powerful painted by an American artist. Blakelock began to paint at an early age. In September 1864 he entered what is now the City College of New York, which he left in February 1866 without being graduated. He first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in the fall of 1867 and continued to do so for the next six years; after 1879 he exhibited intermittently at both the National Academy of Design and Society of American Artists. In 1869 he made an extended trip to the West, crossing the Rockies and traveling along the California coast and perhaps into Mexico. He returned to New York in 1871.
Blakelock received only very unsympathetic criticism until about 1890 and had great difficulty selling his paintings except for sacrifice prices. In 1891 he had his first mental breakdown, and although he recovered, he became increasingly eccentric and was hospitalized in 1899, on the day his youngest child was born. In 1901 he was moved to the State Hospital for the Insane in Middletown, New York, where he remained until 1916. He stopped painting and then painted much less during his confinement, but by 1902 he was able to resume work on a smaller scale and in a different style.
It is cruelly ironic that just when Blakelock lost contact with events, no longer painted, and could not contribute to the support of his destitute family, his work began to be appreciated. In 1900 one of his landscapes won an honorable mention at the Exposition Universelle in Paris; in the same year his first solo exhibition was held in New York. His prices began to rise, benefiting collectors and speculators but not the Blakelock family, who continued to suffer in acute financial distress. By 1903 his paintings were being forged, as they continued to be in ever greater numbers during the years to come. In 1913 Blakelock was belatedly elected an associate of the National Academy of Design and in 1916 an academician. Blakelock’s mind cleared to the point that he could be released from the mental hospital in 1916, but he returned to a private sanitorium in 1918.
Elliott Daingerfield, Ralph Albert Blakelock (New York: Privately printed, 1914) § Index 20th Cent. Artists 4 (December 1936): 367-68; 4 (January 1937): 369-73; reprint, 663-69 § New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Ralph Albert Blakelock: Centenary Exhibition, exh. cat., 1947, with text by Lloyd Goodrich § Santa Barbara, University of California, Art Galleries, and others, The Enigma of Ralph A. Blakelock, 1847-1919, exh. cat., 1969, with essays by Phyllis Stuurman and David Gebhard, bibliography, list of works in public collections § Lincoln, University of Nebraska, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, and Trenton, New Jersey State Museum, Ralph Albert Blakelock, 1847-1919, exh. cat., 1975, with text by Norman A. Geske.