Franz von Lenbach was born on December 13, 1836, in Schrobenhausen, Bavaria. The son of a mason, he trained at Landshut Technical College with the intention of following his father into the trade. In 1851 he began working in Munich in Anselm Sickinger’s sculpture studio. Through his older brother, Karl August Lenbach, he met Johann Baptist Hofner, an artist who had trained at the Munich Akademie der Bildenden Künsten and who formally introduced him to drawing and painting. Having attended the Augsburg Polytechnic for two semesters (1852–1853) and worked for a few months in Albert Gräfle’s studio, Lenbach enrolled in the Munich Akademie in 1854.

In 1857 he became a pupil of Karl Theodor von Piloty, famous for his history paintings. The following year, with the help of a scholarship, he accompanied Piloty on a trip to Rome, along with Carl Ebert, Ferdinand von Piloty, and Theodor Schüz. In Italy he made a lot of oil and pencil sketches that would inspire such famous paintings as L’arco di Tito (1860), finished upon his return to Munich. From 1860 onward, he started teaching at the Weimar Art School and devoted himself to reproducing Old Master works on commission for Count Adolf Friedrich Graf von Schack. His work as a copyist took him back to Italy and also to Spain, Vienna, and Berlin.

At the end of the 1860s, he settled in Munich and became internationally successful thanks to the many portraits he painted of society personalities of the time, including Peggy Guggenheim, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, and Otto Bismarck. At the beginning of the 1870s, not only did the artist substitute his previous bright palette with darker tones, but he also started using light more effectively, especially in his portraits. His style was to have a remarkable influence on the art of the time. In 1882 Lenbach was granted nobility, and in 1900 he won the Grand Prix for painting in Paris. He died in Munich on May 6, 1904.