While serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War, painter Edward Lamson Henry would develop his keen eye for fine detail and continue to implement that in his later works. Though he did some portrait work, it is his focus on rural America and transportation that brought him the most attention. While his style remained consistent over the course of his entire career, he did significantly brighten his palette and loosen his brush work later.
He was born in South Carolina, but was orphaned at an early age and sent to live in New York City. He displayed talent early on and was given private lessons with Walter Oddie. He was enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy for two years before heading to Paris where he studied with Gustave Courbet, Robert Fleury and Charles Gleyre. It would be Fleury and Gleyre who most strongly influenced Henry's work through their romanticism of the landscape in the Barbizon school style.
Upon his return to America he served in the Union Army as a captain's clerk aboard a Quartermaster's supply ship in Virginia. He documented much of what he saw, but from the safe distance of the deck of the ship. He provided a perspective on the war that was far different from many other artists. Additionally, his love of transportation began at this time and he would continue to paint pictures of ships and boats, trains and wagons for the rest of his life.
He visited Europe two more times during his life, and exhibited in many international shows, but it was the Cragsmoor Art Colony in Ellenville, New York where he spent his remaining years.
He exhibited widely in the United States as well, and participated at the National Academy of Design shows for sixty years.