De Forest’s great uncle, the famous Hudson River School painter Frederick Edwin Church (1826–1900), strongly influenced his work and also sparked his passion for the exotic.
Despite his talent for painting, de Forest may be best known for his work as an importer and designer. In 1880, Louis Comfort Tiffany and de Forest, also of New York, organized Tiffany and de Forest Decorators. Shortly thereafter de Forest and his bride took an extended two-year honeymoon in India to purchase objects for the Tiffany partnership. His great respect for authentic Indian architecture led him to organize a woodcarving workshop in Ahmedabad. For more than twenty years, he imported from India and other countries various objects that were key elements in Tiffany’s interiors, including finely carved teakwood, architectural fittings, textiles, and other traditional handicrafts. The Museum’s collection includes a number of these objects. In 1908, de Forest sold his entire stock of Indian carvings and transferred his contract with the Ahmedabad workshop to Tiffany Studios.
The artist began wintering in Santa Barbara, California, around 1900. This installation includes a number of the California scenic views that he so loved. In 1919, de Forest retired full-time to his home in Santa Barbara and spent the rest of his days painting.