In this moody nocturne, Blakelock captured the solitude and stillness of night. He achieved the rich tones and patterned surface of this painting by layering semitransparent oil glazes over white paint and blending the layers by rubbing them with a cloth, pressing them flat with a palette knife or sanding them down with a pumice stone. The title of the painting (given to the work by an art dealer) refers to Diana, the ancient Roman moon goddess.
Ralph Albert Blakelock Diana's Mirror, around 1880–99 Collection of the Akron Art Museum Ralph Albert Blakelock’s works are synonymous with evocative moonlit scenes. In his Diana's Mirror, a dramatic light emanating from a partially hidden silvery moon casts reflections upon the placid water below. A dealer titled the picture Diana’s Mirror because it evokes mythological associations to the Greek virgin goddess of the hunt, whose symbol was the moon.1 The painting's original title remains a mystery. This haunting nocturne suggests a response to nature similar to that of nineteenth-century transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who believed in the possibility of spiritual revelations through the experience of nature. Unrepresentative of any specific place or time, and absent of topographical details and narrative elements, the painting is almost purely a poetic interpretation of the American landscape. A self-taught artist, Blakelock began to paint in the 1860s in the manner of the Hudson River school and first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1867. Unlike his contemporaries who traveled to Europe to study art, Blakelock made a trip to the West that had a lasting influence on the subject matter of his paintings. He frequently depicted the wilderness and scenes of Native American life. Receiving only very unsympathetic criticism until about 1890, Blakelock had great difficulty selling his paintings. Financial and emotional instability led to a mental breakdown in 1891, and in 1899 he had to be hospitalized. Ironically, it was not until after Blakelock was institutionalized that his work began to be appreciated. In 1900 one of his landscapes won an honorable mention at the Universal Exposition in Paris, and he had his first solo exhibition in New York. Afterward his works brought such substantial prices that forgeries flooded the market during the first part of the twentieth century. Known for his dark palette and roughened surface texture, Blakelock used unconventional techniques and materials in order to achieve the luminous effects of color and light seen in this painting. The ground, or base coat, consists of two layers of opaque white separated by a thin green layer. When the ground was dry, Blakelock worked the surface to create a rough texture. Frequently he flattened the paint with a palette knife and wiped certain areas clean. He was also known to use a pumice stone to grind down a surface. On top of this textured ground, the artist applied several thin, semitransparent layers of oil paint and varnish. This multifaceted process resulted in a textured surface that allows the ground to be seen through the thin top layers—for example, in the flickering highlights and in the milky white areas of the sky. The artist rarely dated any of his mature works. Because of his unorthodox methods, it is impossible to precisely date his paintings and outline a stylistic or thematic chronology. Blakelock probably painted Diana’s Mirror during the 1880s or 1890s, when he created his most accomplished works. Here he created a scene that not only evokes the mystical aspect of nature in a time of rapid industrialization and increasing consumerism but also captures the solitude and stillness of night. Blakelock’s ability to create a visionary, spiritual image intrigued viewers at the beginning of the twentieth century and continues to do so today. - Jack Becker, 2001 1. Art dealer Robert C. Vose Sr. gave the painting this title in 1922. Letter from Robert C. Vose Sr. to Edwin C. Shaw, January 10, 1922, Edwin C. Shaw Papers, Akron Art Museum archives. Davidson, Abraham A. Ralph Albert Blakelock. University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University, 1996. Geske, Norman A. Ralph Albert Blakelock, 1847–1919. Lincoln, Nebr., and Trenton, New Jersey: Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, and N. J. State Museum, 1975.
Signed "R A Blakelock" LL