Self-taught landscape painter Ralph Albert Blakelock was born in New York City in 1847. At age 22, he went on a horseback trip through the West, where he lived among the Plains Indians. He sketched the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains and painted scenes of coastal California, the redwoods, Oakland and San Francisco. Upon his return to New York in 1899, he found himself unable to support his family of nine children with his sales and suffered a breakdown. He was committed to an asylum, where he remained for the rest of his life.

After 1900, his work gained some recognition and he won a prize at the Paris Expo that year. However, because of the increased demand for his paintings and his incapacitation, many forgeries appeared. His daughter Marian, also a painter, sold paintings to a dealer who changed her signature to her father’s. She, too, was institutionalized in 1915. In 1916, Blakelock’s work was demanding up to $20,000 even while he was institutionalized. He died, nearly impoverished, in 1919. Authentication of Blakelock paintings remains problematic because of the forgeries. The University of Nebraska published a catalogue that classified his paintings into three categories according to degree of authenticity.

Blakelock was a visionary painter; his paintings depict atmospheric forest interiors and Indian encampment scenes. He also produced some floral still lifes. Also a pianist, he used music to give him inspiration for painting. His unusual painting technique involved building up many layers of paint and then scraping away or adding more to create a textured surface.


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