A fascinating story in the December 12, 1917 Brooklyn Daily Eagle explained that almost a century ago our local library hosted a blockbuster art show of Greenpoint artists. It is too bad that the article did not go into more depth about the show, but it did mention the three stars of the show: Ralph Blakelock, George Inness and John Mulvany. If you are not familiar with the artists in the show you should be, because they were not only locals, but they were also greats.
Inness and Blakelock were friends who once lived locally, daily taking the ferry to their Manhattan studios. They both started painting in the Hudson River School of Landscape painting, but their lives and careers went in very different directions. Inness was living in a boarding house on India Street in the 1870’s before his career took off. In terms of composition, precision of drawing, and the emotive use of color, his paintings rank him among the best and most successful landscape painters ever in America and he was soon discovered. Inness was the subject of a major retrospective in 1884, which brought him national recognition. Then, he earned international fame when he received a gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition. His works brought him celebrity and fetched high prices.
His friend Blakelock’s life and career went in the opposite direction. Blakelock married Cora Bailey from Milton Street and the couple had ten children. Blakelock’s style was so ahead of its time that it was neither understood nor a commercial success. The pressure of trying to sell his art to feed his large family pushed him over the edge and he was committed to a mental institution. Years later, after he was committed, people recognized his genius and starting paying high prices for his work, but a swindler conned his wife into giving her control of his paintings, which she sold, pocketing all the money and robbing the family blind. Today Blakelock’s works hang in major museums and he is recognized as one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century.
John Mulvany was an Irish-born artist who painted one of the most iconic paintings of the nineteenth century,”Custer’s Last Rally,” Which depicted the massacre at Little Big Horn. He toured the country with the work for thirteen years and the painting brought him fame and wealth, but he fell on hard times and ended up on Greenpoint Avenue, finally drowning himself in the East River when he learned he had cancer. Today there is a renewed interest in his work and one of his paintings resurfaced in Ireland a few years ago and was sold for a huge price.
What pictures did they show in the exhibition? What other artists displayed at the show? These questions we cannot answer, but it would be great if we could have a hundredth anniversary exhibition of these amazing local artists.