The painting is in three parts: the left represents the Past; the centre represents the Present and the right the Future. The painting took over a year and a half to complete. It is twelve feet long.
On the left there is the Tree of Life. There is also a symbolic path which starts off as a snake. The path leads into the next panel.
In the central panel the path turns into a fiery chasm. Again the Tree of Life is included in this section, but here it is being chopped down to stoke the underground fires. In the meantime, in the top half of this section, artists are queueing to submit their paintings to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy at Burlington House, in the centre of the painting. They are oblivious to the fact that their world is about to ‘go up in smoke’.
On the right the right the people are heading into the Future. The Tree of Life could not, in fact, be killed, so it begins to grow again, but smaller and more cautious this time. Here, the people have a choice: they can either follow the path that leads to a material life (symbolized here by the dark hole in the ground which is full of wires and technology..) or they can take the path that accepts the possibility of there being ‘something more spiritual’ in their life.
This choice in life (between the material and the spiritual) is a theme which is at the centre of human existence and is just as important and relevant today as it would have been, say, two thousand years ago. Circumstances may change, technology may improve, but human beings are always left with the same moral choices.