Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Art and Madness Series 1

Ralph Blakelock (1847-1919)

Blakelock was born and studied in New York City and began his career as a late Hudson River School landscape painter. He made his exhibition debut at the National Academy of Design in 1868, exhibiting there annually until 1873 and sporadically thereafter. He rose from the ranks of the unknown and untrained to the unlikely status of being the most highly publicized American artist at the turn of the century.

Ralph Blakelock spent the years 1869 - 72 in the West where he painted a number of topographical scenes. On his return East, he evolved the aesthetic that was to dominate his art - quiet evening scenes, large oak trees silhouetted against a sunset or moonlight glow, often with Indian camps sparkling in the dark beneath. Apparently predisposed to melancholia, the artist suffered a mental collapse in 1891 and was institutionalized briefly. Throughout the 1890s his emotional state gradually deteriorated, manifesting in delusions of grandeur and eccentric dress. A violent episode in 1899 resulted in the artist's uninterrupted confinement until 1916, after which he was hospitalized periodically until his death. Ironically the recognition that he had long sought came to him only after he was institutionalized.

Ralph Barton and Charlie Chaplin
ca. 1922-1961

Despite personal charm, wealth, and an unrivaled reputation for high-style caricatures of his celebrity friends, Barton could not escape his chronic manic depression and took his own life shortly before his fortieth birthday in 1931. But he had helped to invent a new type of celebrity caricature that was too stylish to be cruel. "It is not the caricaturist's job to be penetrating," he noted. "It is his job to put down the figure a man cuts before his fellows in his attempt to conceal the writhings of his soul."

Self-portrait Ralph Barton

Watercolor and graphite on paperboard mounted on illustration board, circa 1925

"The human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare," caricaturist Ralph Barton wrote in 1926. In his self-portrait, Barton reveals what he usually took pains to conceal: the writhing turmoil of the psyche. Inscribed "with apologies to Greco and God," the picture suggests the artist's own mental anguish.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

N Posted by Rain at 5/30/2006 12:08:00 AM


  • Blogger Lyndon posted at 4:33 AM  
    I decided to stop by and thank you for the link to your blog.

    Great post by the way, I had never heard of Ralph Barton before. His art looks amazing, I think I'll have to see if I can find more of his works to look at.
  • Blogger Steven posted at 4:18 PM  
    I really enjoy reading your blog and learning about all these artists that you bring up. If you don't mind, I'd like to add a link to you blog from mine. Let me know if that's ok by emailing me at seaofsteve@hotmail.com or just leave a comment on my blog.

  • Blogger jules posted at 11:16 PM  
    Very cool info. I'm off tomorrow to the library to pick up the books you've recommended to me.
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