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He was born in Ederhof near Stronach, in Tyrol, the son of a prosperous farmer. In 1860, following his father's death, Franz sold the family's farm and moved to Innsbruck, where he studied with the sculptor Michael Stolz. He went to Munich in 1861 to study under Hermann Dyck and Hermann Anschütz. In 1863 he travelled to Paris, where he continued his artistic education autodidactically by a routine of figure drawing and a thorough study of the museums, art collections and studios. On 8 July 1865 he returned to Munich, where from 1867 to 1870 he studied alongside Hans Makart and Gabriel Max in the studio of history painter Karl von Piloty.
Defregger became one of the leading genre painters in Munich, and became a professor of history painting at the Munich Academy, where he continued to teach until 1910. He died in Munich in 1921.
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