Blakelock, Ralph Albert
Oil on canvas
16 1/4 x 24 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Bequest of Ida E. Derby
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
This mellow toned autumnal landscape appropriately titled Golden Autumn by Ralph A. Blakelock was executed about 1870 or shortly before and is typical of much of the finest work produced by Blakelock during the earlier years of his career. The setting might well be some location in the Adirondacks, and while the forms are fully representational, the painting itself is in no sense intended as a literal copy of any particular scene.
Here, the mood is quiet and peaceful. Figures of two fishermen are seen silhouetted against a dense forest and although small in scale are nevertheless compositionally prominent, since the artist has situated them in almost the exact geometric center of the painting. Of especial interest is the structural arrangement employed to create spatial illusion, here consisting of foreground, middle ground and background. In the foreground is a silvery gray stream with embankment and scattered rocks. In the middle ground, a stretch of trees and thick underbrush is seen, while a low and barely visible mountain range occupies the background. Yet, despite the three-part division, compositional unity is clearly achieved. For the eye quickly pierces into the depth, focusing on the two fishermen, while at the same time the waterfall in the middle ground trickles into the stream which flows gently into the foreground toward us. But of greater importance is the light, which pervades the entire composition, tending to dissolve the background mountain forms and creating tiny silver toned flecks on the central mass of trees. Moreover, the dashes of brightly vivid colors scattered throughout the composition effectively harmonize with the warm yellow-brown glow of light concentrated in the middle- and foreground.
It is significant that Blakelock should have selected such a relatively commonplace woodland setting, rather than a more grandiloquent scene such as characterized so many mid and late 19th century landscapes, thus setting himself apart from many of his contemporaries. Indeed, Blakelock was a self-educated artist, born in New York City in 1847. He was the son of a physician, and it was assumed that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in the field of medicine. Instead he chose to be a painter and today is regarded as one of America’s most visionary artists. Yet his life was tragic, for throughout his career he was cheated both by clients and by art dealers. And although he ultimately gained a widely respected reputation as a painter and was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1916, he spent the last twenty years of his life confined to a mental hospital and died just a few months after his release in 1919 at the age of 72 years.