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The Unknown Blakelock

January 25 - April 6, 2008


Presenting more than 40 paintings on view together for the first time, "The Unknown Blakelock" offers a grand vision of the work of Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919) beginning January 25, 2008 at Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. (right Ralph Albert Blakelock, "Japanese Lantern and Moths," undated, 8 x 4 5/8 inches, collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Blakelock Wilson)

Sheldon has organized the exhibition with works from its collections and loans from 34 museums and collectors throughout the country. In October, the exhibition will be on view at the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts in New York City.

Known as a 19th-century tonalist painter, Blakelock has been historically associated with two dominant themes -- moonlight scenes and Indian encampments. Critics have largely overlooked the painter's broader accomplishments, which have been obscured by his tragic mental illness and numerous forgeries produced in his style.

Modern art scholars, including Norman Geske, Sheldon director emeritus, in his recently published "Beyond Madness: The Art of Ralph Albert Blakelock," find a proto-modern vision in the artist's works and his influence on several generations of 20th-century painters.

This exhibition's more comprehensive view of Blakelock's work includes Western and Jamaican landscapes, shanty scenes, seascapes, still lifes and imaginary/fantasy compositions.

One gallery in the exhibition will be devoted to the authentication of Blakelock's work. In 1969, Geske established the Nebraska Blakelock Inventory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to analyze paintings attributed to the artist.


Related events

The exhibition opens January 25, with Geske's 5:30 p.m. keynote address titled, "Why Blakelock?" in the Ethel S. Abbott Auditorium. A public reception will follow his address.

A symposium beginning at 9 a.m. January 26 will feature three speakers:

A podcast of the symposium will be available online at the Gallery's website.

Registration fee for the Blakelock Symposium. Students with a college or high school identification may register free. To preregister, call Monica Babcock at (402) 472-2463 or send a check to the Blakelock Symposium at Sheldon, P.O. Box 680300, Lincoln, NE 68588-0300. Admission to the keynote address and to the exhibition are free.

A gallery guide and catalogue will accompany the exhibition, which runs through April 6. The Blakelock paintings in the exhibition will be reinstalled at Sheldon in May with works from the museum's permanent collection to illustrate the artist's influence on contemporary American painters. The reinstallation will be on view through August. To read the gallery guide essay by Sharon L. Kennedy please click here.

The exhibition and publications are funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, as well as Ameritas Charitable Foundation, the Nebraska Arts Council, Ethel S. Abbott Charitable Foundation, Friends of Norman Geske, the Geske Paris Travelers and the Nebraska Art Association.

Resource Library readers may also enjoy:

references to the artist in:

and from Wikipedia:

and these books:

Beyond Madness: The Art of Ralph Blakelock, 1847-1919, By Norman A. Geske, Contributor Peter H. Hassrick, Published 2007 by University of Nebraska Press, 227 pages. ISBN 0803222076. Google Books says of the book:

This book, featuring the life and works of Ralph Blakelock, situates him in the context of American art. Representing over twenty years of study and the examination of several thousand works attributed to him, Beyond Madness reveals the unusual nature of Blakelock's life story as it offers clear parallels to his painting. Largely self-taught and supported by few patrons, Blakelock regularly struggled with the financial pressures of supporting his nine children and pursuing his art. Called both brilliant and doomed, and institutionalized on and off for the last decade of his life, he nonetheless created some of the most beloved -- and some of the most frequently forged -- paintings in the American canon. As in the author's own time, modern assessments of his work are often colored by notions of Blakelock the man, leading to a paradoxical legacy of suffering and hope, obscurity and prominence. Taking Blakelock's art on its merits, Beyond Madness stands as a testament to the indefatigable spirit of art scholarship as well as a tribute to the artist and his enduring passion for the creative process. It finally casts new light on the life and character of Blakelock and on the nature of the incomparable art he contributed to the American tradition.

The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R.A. Blakelock, By Glyn Vincent, Published 2003 by Grove Press, 362 pages. ISBN 0802117341. Google Books says of the book:

On February 22, 1916, Ralph Albert Blakelock's haunting landscape Brook by Moonlight was sold at auction for $20,000, a record price for a painting by a living American artist. The sale, his second record price in three years, made him famous. The newspapers called him America's greatest artist, and thousands flocked to exhibitions of his work. Yet at the time of his triumph, Blakelock was confined for fifteen years in a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York while his wife and children lived in poverty. Released from the asylum by a young philanthropist, Blakelock was about to become the victim of one of the most heartless con games of the century.This remarkable biography -- unprecedented in its comprehensiveness and authority -- chronicles the life, times, and madness of one of America's most celebrated and exploited painters, whose brooding, hallucinogenic landscapes anticipated abstract expressionism by more than half a century. With unfaltering historical detective work, Glyn Vincent unearths the facts of Blakelock's childhood in Greenwich Village; his youthful journeys among the Sioux and Uinta Indians, which inspired some of his best-known paintings; and the years in which he struggled to support his family by peddling his canvases door-to-door and playing piano in vaudeville theaters. He explores the nature of Blakelock's mental illness and shows how the painter fell into the dubious care of a dashing adventuress who kept him a virtual prisoner while siphoning off the profits of his success, and he assesses the painter's true place in the pantheon of American art.Like the best biographies, this book is also a portrait of a vanished world, and particularly the New Yorkof the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, a city of artists' studios and spiritualists' salons, shantytowns and millionaires' mansions, a city where the line between obscurity and adulation was seductively, treacherously thin. Impressively researched, filled with human drama and vivid period detail, and in the tradition of A Beautiful Mind and The Professor and the Madman, The Unknown Night is a seductive mixture of scholarship and storytelling.

To read excerpts from this book, choose a Google Books full view books search, enter the artist's full name plus the word "artist" and then when the search results are retrieved click on The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R.A. Blakelock.


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