Art and Advertising

An advertisement for a painting of a landscape featuring a settlement of Native Americans.


Perhaps one third of Photoarchive reproductions are cut from publications, including catalogs, books, newspapers, and magazines. This advertisement sheet for a painting possibly by Ralph Albert Blakelock (see illustration) was printed in 1942. As the sheet describes, the dealer Americana Arts is offering a landscape with teepees that might or might not be a good deal:

"BLAKELOCK … We don’t think so … but some of our friends say it is. With no guarantee whatsoever we are asking a cool $150.00 (one hundred fifty). If it is a Blakelock (and it may be one) it is easily worth three times this amount. If it isn’t … this picture is still worth more than $150.00. It is a worthy addition to any collection of Americana art."

The ad promises a cash refund within five days of purchase.

In 1942 and 1943, Americana Arts advertised in national magazines: war action photographs were offered in the classified pages of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, lithographed portraits of General Douglas MacArthur and Chiang Kai-Shek were for sale in Billboard, and prints by Currier & Ives were available in Hobbies.

The whereabouts of the supposed Blakelock landscape is unknown, although one can reasonably assume it did not end up in a museum. From the earliest years of the twentieth century, Blakelock was widely considered one of the most copied American artists. The unevenness of his oeuvre contributed to that reputation. In 1902, an article in the journal Brush and Pencil warned, “He plagiarized his own pictures; and several of his critics have expressed the opinion that it would not be at all strange if some of his inferior works should in future come to be condemned as forgeries.” Likewise, amateur artists could passably replicate the look, if not the feel, of Blakelock’s peculiar views.

Though Blakelock spent the last sad decades of his life deteriorating in psychiatric institutions, it was in those years that his paintings finally appreciated.Black and while oblong silkscreen image of 200 American dollar bills set into a grid pattern. Although he is less well known today than many of his contemporaries, Blakelock’s appeal endures: he was a favorite of Franz Kline, and five of his paintings were included in the 1988 Andy Warhol Collection Sale at Sotheby’s. (Blakelock’s final, mad paintings included intricately designed and rendered banknotes; in an interesting parallel, Warhol’s earliest silkscreened work was his radical “Dollar Bill” series, an example of which is illustrated.)

In addition to documenting both the work of art and the reproduction itself, many Photoarchive files reveal unusual context surrounding the image. In this case, Americana Arts evinces a particular market for and sense of humor surrounding Blakelock’s work. The advertisement exists as both a snapshot of a painting and a glimpse of the armchair art market in 1942.

Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919), Landscape with Indian Tepees, undated. Oil on canvas, 14 x 19 in. Location unknown.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), 200 One Dollar Bills, 1962. Silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, 80 1/4 x 92 1/4 in. Private collection.

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