Although he exhibited with the Eight, Maurice Prendergast, along with Arthur Bowen Davies, preferred to depict the pleasant and carefree aspects of modern life. Born in Newfoundland and raised in Boston, Prendergast first traveled abroad in 1886 and later spent three years in Paris from 1891 to 1894. There he studied with Courtois at Atelier Colarossi before attending the life class at the Académie Julian. While in Paris he formed a close friendship with fellow Canadian painter James Morrice, who introduced him to a wide circle of artists and theorists. The experience was crucial and formative for Prendergast. He rapidly absorbed the innovations of contemporary French painting, especially the brushwork of Paul Cézanne and the colorful palette of Henri Matisse and the French Fauves, or Wild Beasts, as they were called by their critics.
Prendergast renewed his intense interest in French painting after the turn of the century. He modified a decorative style inspired by the Post-Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, who had earlier experimented with a technique of painting in small discrete strokes of color resembling a colorful mosaic or pattern of dots called pointillism. In Sunset Prendergast combines the vivid and opaque paints of the Fauves with a variety of short touches of color inspired by Signac, using them to render the textures of the costumes, trees, and sky.
In contrast to the exuberant scenes of Americans at leisure that Prendergast had made at the turn of the century, Sunset belongs to a more static group of images produced late in his career. The silhouettes of figures, horses, and dogs arranged in a shallow foreground plane are reminiscent of ancient Egyptian or Assyrian reliefs. This elegiac scene of leisure also recalls the sense of longing and nostalgia evoked by the great bathers of Cézanne and Matisse. Painted during the turmoil of the Great War, Sunset suggests a fading era of innocence and carefree pursuits. Many of the grand resort hotels and amusement parks the artist had depicted in earlier paintings, drawings, and prints had by then fallen into ruin or been destroyed by fire and vandals. Although a sense of loss is evident in comparison to his previous images, Prendergast’s bold technique and colorful palette in Sunset convey the intensity of his remembrance of times past.