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."
William's best-known brother was Captain Guy Ellis Baker (b. 1858), who married Louisa Irene Palma Di Cesnola, daughter of Civil WarMedal 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.
By 1881, Baker had built a summer studio named "The Castle"[n 3] 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's headstone in Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York
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[n 4] 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" and the New York Times stated that his death "deprived America of one of its most promising artists."
Another of his paintings, Morning After the Snow, sold for $5000 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).
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.[n 2] His landscapes were variously described as "characteristic[ally] American"[n 1] 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.
^ abTurnure, Arthur B (1884). "Notes: Descriptive and Biographic". Art Year Book 1884: American Art. Boston: New England Institute. End of paragraph 2. Retrieved November 29, 2011. The Hallgarten prizes of three hundred, two hundred and one hundred dollars annually for the best three pictures in oil colors shown in the exhibition were awarded respectively to Mr. C. Y. Turner for his large and important figure subject, The Courtship of Miles Standish, to Mr. Louis Moeller for his excellently painted single figure with accessories, entitled Puzzled, and to Mr. William Bliss Baker for his characteristic American landscape, A Woodland Brook.
^ abTurnure. Paragraph 7. "William Bliss Baker.—One of the prize winners in the National Academy exhibition of 1884, Mr. Baker, has been selected as a worthy exponent of our best landscape art. Though a young man, not yet twenty-five years of age, he has already acquired an enviable reputation in the art world. Born November 27th, 1859, at New York he began his course of study in the National Academy Schools in 1876 and first exhibited at the Academy in 1879. Since then he has had work in the exhibitions of Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Louisville, the Society of American Artists, the Water Color Society and the Salmagundi Club. His principal pictures are Woodland Brook, In the old Pasture, Silence, Woodland Study, Green Pasture—July, April Sunshine, November Gray, April Snow, Brook in Spring."
^The home/studio built by Baker has had multiple names over the years, including "The Castle", "Smith's Castle", and "The Haunted Castle". See Ye Olde Days by Briaddy.
^Regarding his death, some sources state he was in his 27th year (which means he was 26), and others state he was 27 years old. The book Art Year Book 1884: American Art gives his actual birthdate, however, so we know he was 26 when he died just a week shy of his 27th birthday.
^ abcJones, Agnes Halsey (1968). "Introduction—The Hudson River School". Hudson River School. Geneseo, New York, United States: W. F. Humphrey Press. pp. 1–9, 16–17.
^ abcdGodel, Howard; Baumgartner, Katherine W.; Quick, Thomas, eds. (2005). An Alluring Path III. New York, New York, United States: Godel & Co. Fine Art. pp. 34–35. LCCN2003110778.
^ abcdeAmerican Ancestry: Giving the Name and Descent, in the Male Line, of Americans Whose Ancestors Settled in the United States Previous to the Declaration of Independence, A. D. 1776. Albany, New York, United States: Joel Munsell's Sons. 1891. pp. 93–94.
^ abcdeBriaddy, Katherine Q. (1974). "The Railroads". Ye Olde Days: A History of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. Ballston Spa, New York: Journal Press. pp. 89–92.
^"Monthly Record of American Art". The Magazine of Art: xxii. "He was a pupil of the New York National Academy of Design, where he took the Elliott prize in 1879, and in 1885 he won the Hallgarten prize with his landscape, 'The Woodland Brook.'"
^"Died". The New York Times. November 22, 1886. p. 5. BAKER.—At Hoosic Falls, N.Y., Nov. 20, in the 27th year of his age, William Bliss Baker, artist, late of this city, son of Col. B.F. Baker. Funeral at St. Mark's Church, Hoosic Falls, Tuesday, 23rd inst., at 12:30.
^ ab"Monthly Record of American Art". The Magazine of Art. London, Paris, New York, and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Limited: xxiv. 1887. The William Bliss Baker collection was sold, March 17th. "Morning After the Snow" brought $5,000; "Snow Scene," $1,100; "Solitude," sold for $1,100; "Under the Appletree," $760; and the last work of the artist, "Meadow Brook," sold for $614.
^ abcAppleton's Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1886. New York, New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company. 1887. p. 664.
^ abE. R. (December 8, 1883). "Two Art Exhibitions in New York". The American: A National Weekly Journal of Politics, Literature, Science, Art and Finance. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The American Company, Limited. VII (174). p.9 third paragraph near the end. Mr. William Bliss Baker's "Morning in the Meadows" is a brilliant landscape, but with a little more elaboration of detail than is appropriate to black-and-white work.