William Bliss Baker, 1886
Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville said of the American forest floor in 1831: “In the midst of all this debris, the work of new creation goes ceaselessly forward. Offshoots, creepers, and plants of every sort press across every obstacle to the light… Life and death meet here face to face, as if they wished to mingle and confuse their labors.” This 19th-century painting portrays the natural cycle of decay and renewal in the American wilderness. The artist portrays both fallen trees and new growth dotting the forest floor. The light filtering into the darkened recess heightens the hope for renewal and lends a spiritual ambiance to the piece. This is one of the few surviving paintings by Baker, who died at the early age of 27 years as the result of an ice skating accident. Baker, a New York artist, earned high accolades for his landscape painting before his untimely death.