An American Impressionist painter who emigrated from Denmark in 1872, Emil Carlsen spent his career dedicated to painting still lifes and was often referred to as the "The American Chardin”, referencing Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, the 18th century French master. While his contemporaries found inspiration from developments in modern painting, Carlsen remained faithful to his established subject matter and method, modeling his still lifes after Chardin’s muted colors and velvety light.
Study in Grey was painted after Carlsen's return to the east coast after a stint teaching in San Francisco. The painting displays a broad tonal range, which Carlsen strategically used to explore and contrast the many textures of his staged objects. The sheen of the black cauldron, for example, contrasts with the muddy, muted tone of the brass tea kettle. These close studies in tonal shift reflect the artist’s belief that inherent beauty remained independent of its subject matter.