It was while he employed in a carriage factory that Charles Harold Davis made a visit to Boston where he first witnessed the paintings of the Barbizon School Masters. He was so inspired by what he saw that he was determined to become a painter. He soon enrolled in the newly founded School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and studied under Otto Grundmann. By 1881 he had traveled to Paris to continue his formal studies. He would remain in the city for almost ten years.
He was enrolled at the Academie Julian and traveled to the Fontainebleau Forest and into Normandy to paint the same settings as the Barbizon painters. His works at the time were Tonalist in style, and were considered among the finest works of the time.
He successfully exhibited in the Paris Salon and the Exposition, and was also sending his works home for exhibition in both Boston and New York. When he returned to the United States he settled in Mystic, Connecticut and his landscape paintings began to transition from Tonalist to primarily Impressionist in style, focusing mostly on clouds and atmosphere.
He became a leading figure in the Mystic art colony, and founded the Mystic Art Association in 1913. He continued to receive great critical acclaim throughout his career, and staged several solo exhibitions in addition to his regular exhibition work.
He received more than fifteen major awards beginning in 1887, and was a medal winner at the Paris Salon, Exposition Universelle and the Panama-Pacific Exposition among many others. His works are in more than thirty museums in the United States alone and include the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.