THE UNKNOWN NIGHT: The Genius and Madness of R.A. Blakelock, an American Painter

Glyn Vincent, Author
Glyn Vincent, Author . Grove $27.50 (362p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1734-2
Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-8021-4064-7
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-55584-770-8
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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. (Jan.)

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