In this moody night scene, or “nocturne,” Ralph Albert Blakelock captured the solitude and stillness of night, rendered through hazy shades of green, blue, and black.
Blakelock was known for his nocturnes, which his biographer characterized as representing “that strange, wonderful moment when night is about to assume full sway, when the light in the western sky lingers lovingly, glowingly, for a space, and the trees trace themselves in giant patterns of lace against the light.” These scenes illustrate Blakelock’s subjective responses to nature and confirm his reputation as a Romantic painter, captivated by humans’ emotional relationship with the natural world. He achieved the rich tones and patterned surface of this painting by layering semi-transparent 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 was given to the work by an art dealer, as is often the case with older works. It refers to Diana, the ancient Roman goddess of the moon.
If you were to give an alternate title to this work, what would it be? The nighttime sky enthralled Blakelock so much that he painted it repeatedly. What aspect of nature fascinates you?
Blakelock didn’t always intend to pursue art as a career. As a young man, he followed in his father’s footsteps by studying medicine at the Free Academy of the City of New York, but dropped out after only three semesters. From there, he set out to explore the American West and Central America, venturing through Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, California, Mexico, Panama, and Jamaica, returning to New York by 1871. He taught himself to paint and his subject matter often included views he had seen during his travels, such as Native American encampments and wilderness scenes.
Blakelock married in 1877 and had 9 children with his wife Cora Rebecca Bailey. From that point, his story took a tragic turn. Although he was a talented artist, he found it difficult to sell enough of his work to support his large family. As a result, he often gave up his paintings for much less than they were worth out of pure desperation. Following a series of depressive bouts, emotional breakdowns, and schizophrenic episodes, Blakelock entered a psychiatric hospital. Shortly thereafter, his works gained in popularity and sold for thousands of dollars, although Blakelock remained unaware of this success until only a few years before his death in 1919.