Though born in Charleston, South Carolina, Edward Henry Lamson was sent to live with cousins in New York after the death of his parents when he was only seven. He studied art in New York and Philadelphia, and then in Paris under the tutelage of Charles Gleyre and Gustave Courbet at roughly the same time as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Returning to America in 1862, he served as a clerk aboard a Union transport ship during the Civil War. After the war, he opened a successful studio in New York, specializing in genre paintings like "What Luck." Genre painters, like the Impressionists, believed the lives of ordinary people to be the appropriate subject for art, but while the Impressionists used this as a launching point to experiment with light and color, genre painters retained the academic tradition of realistic, non-painterly works that effaced the hand of the artist.