William Bliss Baker

Artist Biography

A gifted landscape artist, the artistic potential of William Bliss Baker was cut short with his untimely death in 1886. Due to the unforeseen end to his career, Baker was able to create only a limited number of tonalist landscapes, making them exceedingly rare.

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources
VII. Notes

I. Biography

William Bliss Baker was born in New York City in 1859, and was raised upstate in the village of Ballston Springs. Baker’s early penchant for painting steered him to enroll in classes at the National Academy of Design when he was only seventeen years old. His passion and ambition were not without warrant: The National Academy awarded Baker’s skill in 1879 with the Elliot prize for drawing, and again in 1885 when he was the recipient of one of the prestigious Julius Hallgarten prizes.

The Salmagundi Sketch Club invited Baker to exhibit his works beginning in 1881 at The Black and White Exhibitions, and the artist continued to do so for the next five years, with the exception of 1885.[1] Justified by the strict acceptance of works done only in black and white, these exhibitions provided the opportunity for Baker’s works to hang alongside the likes of William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, the Moran brothers, John Singer Sargent, and James M. Whistler, to name a few.

The rapid progression of his success can be credited to his sensational landscapes: “He possessed, in an eminent degree, the very uncommon ability to elaborate detail and to render minute and subtle effects with close finish, while yet preserving in his pictures the breadth and dignify of the largest facts.”[2] In 1886, Baker’s career tragically ended just as he was reaching the pinnacle of his success. At the young age of twenty-seven, Baker succumbed to health complications stemming from a reported skating accident that occurred while visiting his artist studio in New York.

After his death, one hundred and thirty of Baker’s paintings were put up for auction, and the sale brought in almost $15,000. Critics considered this amount quite a feat, given Baker’s youth and that he was a fully American-trained artist.[3]

II. Chronology

1859 Born in New York City
1876 Enrolled in classes at the National Academy of Design
1879 Awarded The Elliot Prize for drawing by the National Academy of Design
1881 Participated in the first of several of the Salmagundi Club’s Black and White Exhibitions
1885 Awarded the Julius Hallgarten prize by the National Academy of Design
1886 Passed away in upstate New York due to complications from an ice skating accident

III. Collections

Adirondack Museum, NY
Horace C. Henry Collection, University of Washington, WA
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, TN
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada
Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, St. Bonaventure University, NY

IV. Exhibitions

1881–1886 National Academy of Design, NY
1881–84, 1886 Salmagundi Club, NY
1882, 1884–86 Boston Art Association, NY
1883–84 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
1885 Boston Art Club, MA

V. Memberships

Boston Art Club
Brooklyn Art Association

VI. Suggested Resources

Catalogue of the Private Art Collection of Thomas B. Clarke. New York: American Art Association, 1899, 18.
Falk, Peter H. “William Bliss Baker” in Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active between 1898 and 1947. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999, 184.

VII. Notes

[1] Alexander W. Katlan, The Black and White Exhibitions of the Salmagundi Sketch Club 1878 to 1887 (New York 2007): 49.
[2] Catalogue of the Private Art Collection of Thomas B. Clarke (New York: American Art Association, 1899), 18.
[3] “Selling Works of Art: Pictures of Baker, Sprague’s Collection, and the Baker Statues” in The New York Times (18 March 1887): 5.

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