Drawn as much by concern for his health as for the natural attractions, Inness traveled frequently to the south, visiting Virginia in 1884. He made some of his finest late paintings on these trips, among them Gray Day, Goochland. The locations he chose were somewhat off the beaten path and not popular vacation spots. Goochland, west of Richmond and about a mile from the James River, was no more than a village whose chief attractions were the county courthouse and jail. Inness made only one visit to Goochland and stayed for three months. Why he chose this out-of-the way place is still a mystery. The timing of the visit, however, from January into mid March 1884, may reflect Inness's desire to avoid the fuss and strain of the opening of a large retrospective exhibition of his work at the American Art Galleries in New York.
Inness's southern sojourns coincided with the last phase of his career and his achievement of a mature style. His paintings from the mid 1880s until his death are characterized by an expressive, loose transcription of nature through broad paint application and subtle color and tonal effects. In Gray Day, Goochland, pearly grays and molten pinks warm what would otherwise be a bleak winter scene of an adult and child walking across a field toward a farmhouse nestled in a thin cluster of barren trees. On the one hand, the painting perfectly captures the cool, muted light and the damp but nippy atmosphere of a Virginia winter. Yet, at the same time, the blurred forms and deep, yet paradoxically indefinite space convey a sense of the ethereal. Duncan Phillips described the "musical intensity of his later tonalities, scumbled, scrubbed, and glazed into spiritualized surfaces," adding that Inness "painted landscapes as a form of worship." The spiritual element in Inness's late landscapes reflected the artist’s belief in Swedenborgianism. Like the vision of the spiritual realm described in the writings of the religion's founder, the eighteenth-century scientist/mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, Inness's landscapes depict a luminous and limitless counterpart to the physical world of matter and substance.