Blakelock was born in New York City in 1847. In 1866 he dropped out of school to begin painting full time. The following year he began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design. Travelling alone, Blakelock set out for the American West. This exposure to the West echoed throughout his works.
Blakelock returned to New York in the early 1870s, he set up a studio and began painting. While struggling to sell artwork, he suffered a breakdown in 1890 and was hospitalized for several months. Collectors began to actively purchase his work in the 1890s, and Blakelock continued to paint. In 1899, he was again admitted to a mental hospital and would remain hospitalized for almost the rest of his life.
At the 1916 sale of Catholina Lambert’s collection, Blakelock’s Brook by Moonlight sold for $20,000—the largest amount ever paid at that time for a work by an American artist. More paintings sold, and sold well. The National Academy of Design, where Blakelock had exhibited for many years, extended membership to him.