This particular piece involves Bierstadt capturing the contrast of sunlight against the darkness of a forest emerging from nightfall. It is painted with the sunlight illuminating through a clearing in the forest and the viewer can see the small silhouette of an animal sat in the clearing, possibly a deer, appearing to be watching the sunrise. This piece is typical of Bierstadt’s style that he developed while part of the Hudson River School in New York.
As part of this group of painters, he began to paint alongside the river where they would create detailed pieces with a glowing effect. This style of painting that the group adopted is sometimes called luminism. Luminism focuses on the study of light in landscapes and is characterised by hidden brush strokes and careful attention to detail. There is an emphasis on calmness and tranquillity within the painted scenes. A comparable style of painting is impressionism, which also focuses on light. However, the two styles of painting are distinctively different in that impressionism does not have the same focus on detail and brushstrokes are not hidden. Luminism preceded impressionism.
This is not the first landscape by Bierstadt which involves a sunrise in the style of luminism. Other examples of Bierstadt's work on sunrises include Sunrise on the Matterhorn and Sunrise, Yosemite Valley. Similarly, Sunrise, Yosemite Valley includes the use of silhouettes in front of the light coming through the image. In that piece, there appears to be the silhouette of a human figure, accompanied by a creature. Bierstadt has been noted for his inclusion of wildlife in his pieces. His frequent choice of animal is a bear or deer, with the latter appearing to be present in Forest Sunrise. According to art historians, he intentionally chose these creatures to establish scale within his landscapes.