The son of a prominent lithographer for the print firm of Currier & Ives, Alfred Maurer began his career in a conventional manner; he attended the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York, finding success with a realist style akin to James McNeill Whistler, before moving to Paris in 1897. There, he became part of the expatriate circle of American artists in Montparnasse and his paintings were well received in both Paris and New York as part of the circle of artists around Robert Henri. Yet, in 1906, Maurer abandoned this style to become one of the first Americans to adopt a riotous Fauve palette and "primitive" forms. Familiar with avant-garde French painters from the salons of Gertrude and Leo Stein, he incorporated their brilliant colors and bold distortions into his work. His balance between abstraction and representation pioneered new terrain for his American audience.

At the outbreak of WWI, Maurer was forced to leave Paris and in the post-war years, the obvious influence of French modernism on his work conflicted with the growing nationalism of American art. Although his "howlers in color" were enthusiastically received by artists and the avant-garde (who continued to believe their forceful palette and energy blazed new artistic ground) Maurer struggled for mainstream recognition and sales. Maurer's artistic endeavors were compounded by the disapproval of his more traditional father; the reasons for the artist's suicide, which followed the death of his father by mere weeks, have been the subject of much speculation.