Davis left school at the age of fifteen to work in a carriage factory where he remained for five years. His schoolmaster father then sent him to study for three years under Otto Grundman at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Financed by an Amesbury businessman, Davis studied in Paris for two seasons (1880–1881) under Lefebvre and Boulanger at the Académie Julian, making frequent visits to Barbizon and the Fontainebleau region. As a result of his first exhibition in the United States in 1884, Davis realized enough money to allow him to remain in France for nearly ten years. Between 1886 and 1931 he received many awards, including a silver medal at the Universal Exposition of 1889 in Paris. He also exhibited at the famous Armory Show of 1913 in New York. Soon after his return to America in 1890, Davis settled in Mystic, Connecticut, where he lived for the remaining forty years of his life. During these years, he selected most of his subjects from a local rural area cut by the curve of a small river.
Until the early nineties most of Davis's landscapes emphasized the somber and the quiet in nature. One such work, Deepening Shadows, was greatly admired by Wyant and Inness; Thomas Clarke, Inness's most vigorous advocate, was also an early supporter of Davis. Animals, figures, and buildings rarely occupy an important place in Davis's paintings which, after about 1895, usually emphasized broad, blue skies, cumulus clouds, and brighter colors than those in the earlier works. Edge of the Forest, Twilight [Smithsonian American Art Museum] is undoubetedly an earlier work by Davis and looks enough like the Apremont region of Fontainebleau to have been a souvenir from one of Davis's Barbizon visits. Although not a convincing painting throughout, this particular effort offers an early example of Davis's special affinity for "sky painting."
Peter Bermingham American Art in the Barbizon Mood (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975)