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The Unknown Night: The Genius and Madness of R.A. Blakelock, an American Painter Paperback – Bargain Price, December 3, 2003

5.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, December 3, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American painter Ralph Albert Blakelock's tragic life story has all the trappings of a Victorian mystery: kidnapping, madness, seduction, forgery and betrayal. In this spellbinding narrative, playwright and journalist Vincent shows how Blakelock (1847-1919), whose dreamy and haunting landscapes are precursoers to the Abstract Expressionist movement that would follow in 50 years, became one of the country's most innovative and controversial artists. At the height of Blakelock's fame in 1916, however, he had already been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and locked up in a public New York sanatorium, leaving his wife and children destitute. These facts alone would be excitement enough for most "mad artist" biographies. In this case, they represent only the beginning of an increasingly unbelievable story. Beatrice Adams, a seductive and glamorous New York socialite with a shady past, set up a charitable fund to liberate Blakelock from the sanatorium and, supposedly, to provide money for his family. It was a ruse that allowed Adams to gain legal and financial control over the easily manipulated artist and his family, bringing Blakelock's delusional fantasies of persecution to bizarre fruition. Over the next couple of years, using her enormous influence and apparently unstoppable powers of persuasion, Adams isolated Blakelock from his family and retained the profits of his increasingly valuable paintings (here reproduced on eight four-color pages) for herself. Blakelock, eventually fearful of the manipulative and sometimes violent Adams, made repeated attempts to escape from her clutches. The artist's somewhat mysterious death while still under Adams's care only adds to the drama-as does Adams's own eventual diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Compellingly and empathetically told, this chronicle is a must for art lovers and anyone with a passion for turn-of-the-century history and culture.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The life of Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919) has long been left unexamined; likewise, the eerie nocturnal landscapes he painted are forgotten sidebars to the work of his more celebrated contemporaries George Inness and Albert Pinkham Ryder. A century ago, however, while he languished for two decades in an upstate New York insane asylum, Blakelock was lauded as America's greatest painter. When parts of his prolific body of work began selling at prices of up to the then-astronomical sum of $20,000 apiece, the opportunists descended and began to exploit the now-elderly paranoid schizophrenic and his family. In this retelling of a fascinating and sad story, journalist/playwright Vincent captures an artist whose descent into "dementia praecox," as he was then diagnosed, had until now been romanticized, drawing comparisons to Van Gogh. Vincent's account of Blakelock's early hardships in New York City are a template for what it's like to be an unrecognized, struggling artist anytime, anywhere, and the descriptions of the swindlers who exploited his late-won fame are subtly terrifying portraits of greed and dishonesty. Vincent's authoritative tone and level of detail in describing the artist's life are supported by copious documentation, as well as 30 pages of "source notes" that cite personal papers, medical records, and interviews with descendants. A dramatically unhappy life compellingly told; recommended for all libraries.
Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., CA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (December 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802140645
  • ASIN: B008SMOR5Q
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,878,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Blakelock's life is beautifully portrayed in all its glory, madness, and sadness. There is something so haunting about this biography, it leaves one feeling very sorry for this poor man. I had never heard of Blakelock but now have a deeper respect for his work, and more importantly his shattered life.
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Format: Paperback
Blakelock's paintings of moonlight have the weird, dissociated values of gesture that we associate with a much later generation of American painters (e.g. Pollock or De Kooning), at least according to controversialist Glyn Vincent, who notes that Blakelock, after a traditional and demure career as a minor artist of the Hudson River Valley school, made a great breakthrough as the 1870s turned into the 1880s. Unfortunately, insanity came along for the ride, and before long Blakelock was clapped into a mental home even as the prices of his completed paintings soared in a seller's market in the ateliers of the corrupt NY art world.

Enter the real villain of the story, a seductive and beautiful "philanthropist" who, under cover of helping Blakelock's worthy, long suffering and penurious family, worked to rescue him from the asylum but secretly to transfer the title of all his work to her name. You won't believe that one woman was capable of so much skullduggery, but such is the gift of Glyn Vincent's writing that you ALMOST do. Vincent is wonderfully accomplished and always looks to contextualize the individual incidents and privations of his characters inside a wider social sphere, which is much appreciated. Once you start reading THE UNKNOWN NIGHT, its story will never leave your soul.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this biography on Blakelock because I am interested in the artist and the Tonalist movement. I had read with interest the section on Blakelock in David A. Cleaveland’s magnificent and excellently-written tome "A History of American Tonalism: 1880-1920". Several other reviewers here also gave this biography favorable praise, too.

This book is written very well and once picked up, I found it hard to put down. It is a fascinating portrait of this troubled, yet dedicated artist. The art scene that he evolved in was filled with many giants of the day: Moran, Church, Bierstadt, Homer, Inness—to name but a few. It covers his life from his birth in 1847 and covers the amazing changes to not only the city of New York, but of the West as well.

As a maturing artist traveled many times to the West and observed and studied life on the Plains, including time spent with several Indian tribes. He witnessed firsthand the twilight of the great Indian Nations and the changes to the landscaped due to increased westward expansion.

Blakelock’s evolution to his more famous moonlight paintings is an interesting study in the financial and social climate of his time, and the various family stresses put upon him by his devotion to his wife and children.

His eventual slide into schizophrenia is gone into in enough detail to understand it, without getting bogged down in scientific digressions . In fact, on all counts, the author give enough detail to give the reader a god idea of the times Blakelock lived in, and the art world at the time, without any ponderous or non-essential facts and fluff thrown in. In 307 pages he managed to give a clear and fascinating account of the artist and his times.
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I've always found the European Painters more to my taste in pre-modernism: Giotto, Leonardo, di Cosimo, Raphael, Durer, David, Ingres, Gericault, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, who can beat them? Moreover, Blakelock's pictures--"The Chase"; "Moonlight," etc.--always constituted the wallpaper I skipped to get to Jackson Pollock and the modernist crazies in the American Painting section of the Encyclopedias I used to read as a kid. I even recall, much later in another incarnation, strolling past "Old New York: Shanties at Fifty-fith Street and Seventh Avenue" at the Milwaukee Art Museum on my way to Clifford Still without even slowing down to catch the name of the artist. Well, this book put a name to that painting in Milwaukee, and "dusted off," in a manner of speaking, the work of this remarkable American artist. Sure, the Cracker Jack prize in the book is the story of an artist's madness (scads of 'em are)and evil as embodied in the doe-eyed Miss Adams (evil gals abound in the history of art too), but I like the caramelized popcorn better: the historical detail that Mr. Vincent provides us with concerning turn of the century Art Biz, and how certain "Big Names" dined on oysters and champagne while the unknowns remained--well, unknown, and packed away in an asylum, or stuck working hard for their dignity in a "pictures made to order sweat shop". (Well, Ha ha Big Names THEN! Where are you NOW? In some Guggenheim cellar or MOMA warehouse, I bet, or over-priced in a New York gallery.) Yes, Vincent's excellent tome made me "see" Blakelock's work anew and led me to reconsider Ryder, Blyth, Quidor, Vedder, Rimmer, Newman and the rest of the American pictures I skimmed over in days past. Are they as good as the Europeans? As the Asians?Read more ›
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