Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919)

Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919)

Best known for his tonal moonlit landscapes and forest scenes, Ralph Albert Blakelock was born in New York City and began drawing and painting at an early age.  He was encouraged by his family to become a physician like his father, but Blakelock was determined to become an artist and in 1864 he enrolled at the Free Academy of the City of New York.  He left the program after two years and although his formal training was minimal he exhibited his first landscape at the National Academy of Design in 1867.  Nearly two years later he traveled west touring Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Utah and California. He returned around 1870 and in 1875 he settled in New York where he married Cora Rebecca Bailey.  

Contact Vose about this artist
Read more about this artist...

Despite the fact that he exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design and the Society of American Artists from 1879 until 1888 he sold very few pictures. Reportedly, Blakelock, who had no dealer, would often walk the street of New York in hopes of selling a picture.  As his financial and professional situation grew increasingly bleaker the Blakelock family was growing quickly with the birth of several more children.  Eventually poverty and discouragement lead to Blakelock’s suffering a mental breakdown.  He was institutionalized in 1899 on the day of the birth of his ninth child.  After several years in the institution he resumed painting.  Strangely as his delirium worsened his professional standing improved as the art world became captivated by the tale of an artist gone mad.  In 1913 his painting Moonlight sold at auction for $13,000 and held the record for the highest price paid for a work by a living American artist.  Three years later the record was broken when Brook by Moonlight sold for $20,000.

Many people took interest in Blakelock’s fragile mental state and the dire situation of his family.  In 1916 the Blakelock Fund was founded to assist Blakelock and his family during the hard financial times.  The fund was organized under the direction of Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams who was later appointed Secretary of the fund and guardian to Blakelock.  Over the years the fund raised a great deal of money, but none of it was given to Mrs. Blakelock or her children who were living in poverty. In fact Adams deliberately kept Blakelock away from his family and often not informing the family of his whereabouts.   Blakelock died in 1919 impoverished and estranged from his family. 

References:  Who Was Who In American Art (1999).;  Abraham A. Davidson, “The Wretched life and Death of an American Van Gogh,” Smithsonian (December 1987): 80-90.  

Request this artist