Fallen Monarchs

Artist: William Bliss Baker
Fallen Monarchs, a painting

William Bliss Baker (1859-1886), Fallen Monarchs, 1886, oil on canvas, 30 x 39 3/4 inches, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Thomas E. Robinson.

Commentary by Steve West
Chair, Museum of Art Leadership Council

This painting brings back so many memories that I’m compelled to linger before it a good long while. I appreciate how well the artist understands the complexity of the forest. After spending four summers fighting forest fires in my youth, this painting of Fallen Monarchs brings all those experiences back to me. The leaves, the reflections in the water and the various gray tones of the trees make a beautiful setting that draws me into it. However, this peaceful scene also speaks to me of action and coming danger.

The gold and orange light appears to come from a source close to the ground and the gray in the sky looks like smoke. A fire can spread quickly, consuming the needles and leaves along the forest floor, and igniting the rotting logs, which will continue to smolder long after the fire has passed. A fire can also burn far into the base of a dead tree, leaving it to appear deceptively strong and intact. Once it has a core of only a few inches in diameter left at its base, a standing monarch can become a “widow-maker.” The slightest wind can topple it. Without leaves and needles, this can happen silently and without warning.
William Bliss Baker has painted a magnificent forest environment loaded with suspense. I want to reach for my hardhat.

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