The son of a miller, Thoma studied at the Kunstschule in Karlsruhe from 1859 to 1866. He spent his summers during this period near his birthplace of Bernau im Schwarzwald, drawing and painting landscapes and portraits of family members. In 1866, he entered the prestigious Düsseldorf Akademie, where he was introduced to modern French art. Two years later, he travelled to Paris, where he met Courbet. In 1870, he moved to Munich, where he shared a studio with Wilhelm Trübner (n.b. the NCMA owns a landscape by Trübner 56.10.2). His style gradually became influenced by German symbolist painters Arnold Böcklin and Hans von Marées. From 1876 to 1899 Thoma lived in Frankfurt am Main, where he made contact with avant-garde artistic circles, and gradually achieved artistic success. In 1899 he returned to Karlsruhe as director of the Kunsthalle. The following year a group of his paintings was exhibited in Munich, which firmly established his reputation, and thereafter he exhibited regularly throughout Germany. In 1909 a Hans-Thoma-Museum opened within the Karlsruhe Kunsthalle.