|Intro||American landscape realist artist|
|A.K.A.||Baker, w.m bliss baker, w. bliss baker, W. Bliss Baker|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||27 November 1859, New York City, USA|
|Death||20 November 1886, Hoosick Falls, USA (aged 27 years)|
William Bliss Baker (November 27, 1859 – November 20, 1886) was an American artist who began painting just as the Hudson River School was winding down. Baker began his studies in 1876 at the National Academy of Design, where he studied with Bierstadt and de Haas. He later maintained studios in Clifton Park, New York; and New York City, where he painted in oils and watercolors. He completed more than 130 paintings, including several in black and white.
At age 26, Baker was just beginning to hit his stride as a landscape painter when he died at his father's house at Hoosick Falls, New York. The New York Times said that his death "deprived America of one of its most promising artists."
Early life and family
Baker was born November 27, 1859, in New York City, the son of Yale alumnus Benjamin Franklin Baker (b. 1834) and Harriette Luisa Bayeux (married 1857). Harriette was descended from well-to-do Huguenots who moved from France to New York before the American Revolutionary War. Benjamin's father was Ellis Baker (1793–1873), director of the Albany City Bank, Albany Mutual Insurance Company, and People's Line Steamboats, as well as founder of Albany Rural Cemetery and Albany Hospital. He also operated stagecoach lines from Albany to Boston as well as north and west of Albany.
Benjamin served during the American Civil War as a colonel in the 43rd Regiment of the New York State Volunteers. Later, he commanded the Light Division of Sixth Corps (part of the Army of the Potomac) as a Brevet Brigadier General. He was noted for his bravery during the charge at Marye's Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg. After the war, he joined the Loyal Legion, then served as a member of the New York State Assembly from 1880 to 1882.
William's best-known brother was Captain Guy Ellis Baker (b. 1858), who married Louisa Irene Palma Di Cesnola, daughter of Civil War Medal of Honor recipient General Louis Palma di Cesnola. His other brothers included Benjamin Henry (b. 1869), George Clinton (b. 1872), and Ashley Bayeux (b. 1877). Baker spent much of his boyhood in the town of Ballston Spa, and his family discovered and purchased the property where he would build his summer studio, "The Castle", on the shores Ballston Lake.
Study and career
For four years beginning in 1876, Baker studied at the National Academy of Design, where he studied with Albert Bierstadt and Mauritz F. H. de Haas. In 1879, he won the Elliott prize during his first exhibit. In 1885, Baker won the Hallgarten Prize for his Woodland Brook.
By 1881, Baker had built a summer studio named "The Castle" on the east side of Ballston Lake in the town of Clifton Park, north of Albany, New York. The studio was designed to have excellent views of the Catskill and Berkshire Mountains, and had excellent natural lighting. The Clifton Park Historic Preservation Commission awarded "The Castle" its Historic Designation plaque, and a "Clifton Park Register of Historic Places" sign also marks the studio property. The home is now a private residence, and it is not open to the public. Baker also had a studio in the Knickerbocker Building in New York City.
Baker was just beginning to hit his stride as a landscape painter in the Realism movement when he died on November 20, 1886 at the age of 26 of a cold at his father's house at Hoosick Falls, New York, after sustaining injuries while ice skating. His final work was Meadow Brook. Baker completed over 130 paintings during his career.
A contemporary art critic said that his death was "a distinct loss to American art". The New York Times stated that his death "deprived America of one of its most promising artists." Harper's Weekly stated that "[t]he tidings of this young artist's untimely death ... will be received with sincere regret by all those who take an intelligent interest in the growth of native American art." The New York Post wrote that "[t]he young artist was animated by an intense love of nature, which he manifested from his earliest years, and this, aided by his great industry and energy, was among the chief elements of his success in the line of art he had chosen. His untimely death will be deeply regretted by all who take an intelligent interest in American artistic progress."
He is buried in a family plot in Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York (see image, right).
Baker was awarded the 1884 Third Hallgarten Prize by the National Academy of Design for A Woodland Brook.
Fallen Monarchs, considered to be Baker's masterpiece, was painted in 1886 in the Ballston Lake area. The original is owned by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where it hangs in the BYU Museum of Art. A small copy of this painting hangs in the public library in the town of Ballston. His 1883 painting, A Pleasant Day at Lake George hangs in the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York.
Another of his paintings, Morning After the Snow, sold for $5,000 in 1887 (the equivalent of about $109,000 in 2006 dollars). Morning and an additional 129 of his paintings sold at that auction for a combined total of nearly $15,000 (almost $360,000 in 2010 dollars).
Black and white
- Morning in the Meadows (ca. 1883)
- The Brook (date unknown)
- Cattle Grazing Near a Stream Through the Pasture (date unknown)
- Dark Forest (24" x 20", oil on canvas, ca.1880)
- River View (1877)
- Deep in the Woods (1880)
- Hiding in the Haycocks (1881, housed in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)
- Landscape: Grez (ca.1882, housed as part of the Horace C. Henry Collection at the Henry Art Gallery at University of Washington)
- New York Harbour (1883)
- A Pleasant Day at Lake George (1883, housed in the Adirondack Experience: The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, New York)
- Silence (1883, 24x30 inches)
- View of New York Harbor, with Brooklyn Bridge in the Distance (1883)
- October Morning (1884)
- First Fall of Snow (1884)
- First Snow of Winter (1884)
- Summer Evening (ca.1884)
- Woodland Brook (ca.1884-1885, housed at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montréal)
- Lake Luzerne (ca.1885)
- Morning After the Snow (1885, housed in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, St. Bonaventure University)
- Fallen Monarchs (1886, housed in the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University)
- Under the Apple-Trees (1886)
- Meadow Brook (ca.1886, his last completed work)
- A Cool Retreat (date unknown)
- April Day (date unknown)
- April Snow (date unknown)
- Autumn Forest Landscape (date unknown)
- Autumn in Woods (date unknown)
- Autumn Trees by Stream (date unknown)
- Autumn Woods (date unknown)
- Bed of a Brook (date unknown)
- Branches of Elm (date unknown)
- Church Beyond a Meadow (date unknown)
- Clover Field (date unknown)
- Corn Fields and Pasture (date unknown)
- Cows Watering in a Pond (date unknown)
- Dead Leaves (date unknown)
- Dried Up (date unknown)
- Early Autumn (date unknown)
- Edge of the Woods (date unknown)
- Fallen (a study) (date unknown)
- A Forest Glade (date unknown)
- Forest Sunshine (date unknown)
- A Haze (date unknown)
- In the Old Pasture (date unknown)
- June Pastures (date unknown)
- June Sunshine (date unknown)
- Landscape with Cattle (date unknown)
- Marine (date unknown)
- The Old Orchard (date unknown)
- Orchard in June (date unknown)
- Quiet Pond (date unknown)
- A Quiet Pond, Connecticut (date unknown, reviewed in An Alluring Path III)
- Quiet Winter Afternoon (date unknown)
- Schoharie Creek (date unknown)
- Second Growth Timber (date unknown)
- Shadows in a Pool (date unknown)
- Shady Pool (date unknown)
- Snow Scene (date unknown)
- Solitude (date unknown)
- Spring Pasture (date unknown)
- Still Pool in the Woods (date unknown)
- Study of Snow (date unknown)
- Summer Afternoon (date unknown)
- Sunny Brook (date unknown)
- Sunrise on New York Harbor (date unknown)
- Under the Apple Trees (date unknown)
- Wood Interior (date unknown)
- Wood Interior (#2) (date unknown)
- Wood Interior (#3) (date unknown)
- Wooded Glade (date unknown)
- Woodland Scene (date unknown)
Reception and legacy
While Baker is relatively unknown to the general public, he was well known to art critics of the day and was considered "one of the leading landscape painters of America". He is considered to be part of the Hudson River School.
Baker "rapidly ascended to the head of his profession" by the age of 25. His landscapes were variously described as "characteristic[ally] American" and "true character studies in which varieties of vegetation and the varying influence of light and weather were identified with amazing skill." One critic in 1883 described the black and white work Morning in the Meadows as "brilliant" though perhaps too detailed.
Regarding his death, The New York Times said it "deprived America of one of its most promising artists."