American painter Ralph A. Blakelock (1847-1919), one of the most celebrated artists of the Nineteenth Century, will be the focus of the season-opening exhibition at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.
The exhibition, in the Catharine Beecher Memorial Gallery on the second floor of the Main House, will begin May 1 and continue through October 31.
More than 20 original drawings, watercolors and paintings will be featured as well as rarely seen paintings from private collections and other unusual rdf_Descriptions such as Blakelock’s palette still covered with the artist’s original marks and blended paint.
“To those who know Blakelock as the painter of dark and poetic moonlit landscapes, I invite you to look again,” said Elizabeth Jacks, the director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. “The objects in this exhibition are quite unusual. Some of them were painted on the proverbial ‘back of an envelope’ while Blakelock was confined to an institution without traditional art materials. They tell a story of perseverance. Despite all of the difficulties he encountered, Blakelock was a key figure in the transformation of American landscape painting between the Nineteenth Century and the Twentieth.”
Blakelock, who was from New York City, loved to sketch the wilderness and when he traveled to the White Mountains, Adirondacks and Catskills, he was following in the footsteps of Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School. In a recent biography of Blakelock the author Glyn Vincent notes, “Blakelock not only had solid American credentials, he was an artist who, in Whitmanesque fashion, had provided a romantic and poetic vision of America that Americans longed to recapture.”
In the early Twentieth Century, Blakelock’s luminous moonlight paintings were a sensation with the public. A Blakelock landscape sold for $20,000 in 1916, which was a record price for the work of a living artist. The sale made him famous and newspapers called him America’s greatest artist. Yet at his moment of triumph, Blakelock was struck by personal tragedy. What is now thought to be late onset schizophrenia caused him to spend the later years of his life in a state hospital, away from his family, studio and the burgeoning New York City art scene.
Besides being a summer visitor to Catskill and painting the Catskill Mountains on several occasions, Blakelock has another connection to Greene County. Six years after Blakelock was first committed to a state hospital in Middletown, his wife Cora and children left New York City for the country hamlet of Leeds, N.Y., just outside Catskill and several of Blakelock’s descendants live in Catskill today.
Current interest in Blakelock’s life and works has increased with the publishing of The Unknown Night: The Genius and Madness of R.A. Blakelock, an American Painter, by Vincent (Grove Press 2003).
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is at 218 Spring Street. For information, 518-943-7465. Hours are May through October, Friday and Saturday, 10 am-4 pm, Sunday, 1-5 pm.