Ralph Albert Blakelock’s story is a tragic one. Crushed by the financial obligation of supporting his wife and nine children, he suffered from depression and manifested a schizophrenic delusion that he was immensely rich. After being committed to an asylum, his paintings skyrocketed in value. However, the hospital staff regarded his belief that he was a renowned artist as a symptom of his illness, and he was forced to paint on cardboard and other supports, improvising brushes from pieces bark and his own hair. Following his rediscovery by the journalist Harrison Smith, he was released into the custody of one Sadie Filbert, alias Beatrice Rensselaer Adams, who operated a fraudulent foundation in his name.
Together with Albert Pinkham Ryder (who also suffered from mental illness), Blakelock has been described as one of the most individual painters of his time. His paintings were inspired by the Hudson River and Barbizon schools, as well as his own piano compositions. He would spend years working them; building layers, scoring, scraping and rubbing away. When Moonlight was sold at auction for $20,000 in 1916, it set a record for a painting by a living American artist.