Painter, etcher, and one of the most influential American art instructors of the nineteenth century, Frank Duveneck was born Frank Decker to German immigrants Bernard and Katherine Decker on October 9, 1848 in Covington, Kentucky. He acquired the name Duveneck from his stepfather after his father's death and mother's remarriage. Family and friends recognized his artistic talents early on and he was apprenticed to local German artisans who decorated churches through most of the 1860s. In 1870 he traveled to Munich to study at the prestigious Konigliche Akademie (Royal Academy), where he was quickly promoted to life classes and the painting class of Wilhelm von Diez. He quickly earned a reputation as the leading American artist in the Academy. Duveneck was only 24 in 1872 when painted one of his most well-known paintings, Whistling Boy.
Due to dwindling funds and a cholera epidemic in Europe, Duveneck returned to the United States in 1873 and began teaching at the Ohio Mechanics Institute in Cincinnati the following year, where John H. Twachtman was among his students. An 1875 exhibition of his paintings at the Boston Art Club met with critical and public acclaim. He also attracted the attention of William Morris Hunt, novelist Henry James, and his future wife, Elizabeth Boott, who was one among those who deeply admired his work, although the pair were not to meet for another three years. After his return to Munich later that year, he became part of a tightly knit group of other American artists including Frank Currier, William Merritt Chase, and Walter Shirlaw. All four artists exhibited their work in the United States in such venues as the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition of 1877, and the first exhibition of the Society of American Artists in 1878, which may have contributed to the increased popularity of the Royal Academy in Munich as a destination for young American artists. As enrollment rose, classes became overcrowded and Duveneck began teaching in Munich. A group of younger students, including John Alexander, and John H. Twachtman, who had followed the artist from Cincinnati to Munich, became known as the "Duveneck Boys." He also had acquired a private female student, Elizabeth Boott, who had traveled to Munich to study with him.
The painter Elizabeth Boott, known primarily as "Lizzie," was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 13, 1846 and was raised by her widowed father, the prominent Bostonian Francis Boott. The pair moved to Florence, Italy, when Lizzie was just a year old, after the death of her mother and brother from tuberculosis. Similar to Duveneck, Lizzie Boott's talent for drawing was recognized and encouraged at an early age. Early drawings preserved by her father consist of portraits of their well-known Anglo-American friends including Robert Browning, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Henry Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Bootts briefly returned to Boston in 1865, at which time Lizzie met the novelist Henry James, who became a close life-long friend of both her and her father. Through James, she learned of the artist William Morris Hunt, and entered his class in Boston for women artists. She established close friendships with several of the women whom she met through Hunt's class, and they traveled together through Italy and Spain, took classes with the French artist Thomas Couture, and studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. They also made up the group of female students that formed a class of women artists taught by Duveneck, whom Lizzie had persuaded to teach in Florence in 1879. Duveneck, along with a band of "Duveneck Boys" embarked upon a two year stay in Florence and Venice.
During this period in Italy, Duveneck experimented with with hard ground etchings, creating Venetian scenes similar to those produced by James McNeil Whistler. His painting changed as he focused more on landscapes executed in a ligher, more highly keyed palette, perhaps influenced by Lizzie Boott, who painted vibrant watercolor Italian landscapes during this period and with whom he began an extended courtship in 1880. Although Francis Boott admired Duveneck's work and had acquired one his portraits during the artist's successful 1875 exhibition at the Boston Arts Club, neither he nor family friends approved of the bohemian artist as a husband for his accomplished patrician daughter. However the pair eventually married in March 1886, and had a son, Francis Boott Duveneck that December. Tragically, Lizzie Boott died of pneumonia on March 22, 1888. Although he was not a sculptor, one of Duvenecks' most admired works is the effigy that he created with the help of sculptor Clement J. Barnhorn, for his wife's tomb in Florence, casts of which may be viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
After his wife's death Duveneck returned to America, spending most of his time in his Cincinnati studio and teaching painting classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum. At the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, two galleries at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, were allotted to Duveneck for a retrospective of his work. The jury awarded him a gold medal of honor to commemorate his contributions to American Art. Frank Duveneck died in Cincinnati on January 3, 1919.