Skip to Content
Closed today, next open Thursday. Closed today, next open Thursday.

Ghost Dance (The Vision of Life)

A work made of oil on canvas.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • A work made of oil on canvas.




Ralph Albert Blakelock
American, 1847–1919

About this artwork

The Ghost Dance, or “Messiah Craze” as the press called it, fused elements of Native American religions and Christianity to express ideas about the resurrection and rejuvenation of indigenous cultures. An assertion of Native American pride and empowerment in the late 1880s, these ceremonies drew the attention of ethnographers and aroused the suspicions of United States government and military officials. After the murders of Big Foot and Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, the Ghost Dance became part of the mythology of the vanishing Indian. In Ralph Blakelock’s murky, deliberately ambiguous composition, the dancing figures appear as ghosts or shadows—insubstantial fragments of a memory or a dream. Indeed, the artist’s understanding of such performances was drawn from accounts in newspapers and magazines. He had not traveled to the West since the early 1870s, more than 20 years before painting this work.


Currently Off View


Arts of the Americas


Ralph Albert Blakelock


Ghost Dance (The Vision of Life)


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

c. 1895–1897


Oil on canvas


Signed, lower right: "R. A. Blakelock"


53.7 × 100 cm (21 1/8 × 39 3/8 in.)

Credit Line

Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

Learn more.

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions