Karl Knaths believed that the natural world was the source of all art, and drew inspiration from Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he lived most of his life. Attracted to nature’s mysteries, Knaths explored the motif of the deer in the landscape in this painting, and used an elaborate color scheme that he based on mathematics and music theory. An expressive line is the only element defining the shape of the animals, which are camouflaged within the foliage of browns, greens, and golds and thus fused with their environment. The low sun, sloping hillside, and carefully placed flock of birds reflect Knaths’s familiarity with Far Eastern art. An avid reader of the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emmanuel Swedenborg, Knaths fervently believed in the spiritual qualities of the woodlands and wildlife around him. Mature canvases like Deer in Sunset combined abstracted landscape and expressive color to express the memory of a spiritual experience in nature.
Duncan Phillips greatly admired Knaths’s work, devoting a small room in the museum to his paintings and regularly asking him to speak at the Phillips Gallery Art School. Phillips and Knaths developed a lifelong friendship and he once described Knaths as a “poet of painting” for his lyrical use of color.